And they’re back, for round three! (Notably, named ‘Bare Essentials 3: With a Vengeance’). Far from fizzling out, like the novelty of Zoom meetings or baking your own banana bread, the team at Encompass Productions are making sure Bare E-essentials is a monthly fixture in our socially-distanced calendars.
Another week, another four new short plays produced in isolation for isolated audiences at home. But this month, there’s a flash new trailer, opening music – and a well-deserved and well-orchestrated live bow. Encompass have found a winning online formula that works and that they have continued to evolve. This 3rd edition has a welcoming familiarity, and yet keeps it fresh.
Rules marks Lucy Jamieson’s writing debut and the debut of Bare E-ssentials 3. The dialogue is snappy, punctuating a structure that is more meandering as two young women air their little black books and consider the rules they live their love-lives by. It feels like a brief episode or snapshot in these women’s lives, as though it would benefit from being part of something bigger, but it’s a start.
Patty’s story unpacks in chilling fashion in Stones Around my Neck by Emma Dawson. Is it a worried, doting mother or emotional abuser we are confronted with from the well-presented living room of actor, Deborah Garvey? As I have drawn attention to in reviewing previous editions, direct-to-camera performances suit this medium almost alarmingly well and Garvey’s is hard to look away from. We are left with more questions than answers regarding Patty’s missing daughter, but Dawson is right to keep some cards up her sleeve; It makes Patty harder to pin down.
The most outrageous and enjoyable piece tonight is easily The Chair. “Where are the Carters?” might seem like an innocent enough question to ask of one’s dinner guests but the answer is far from it. James C. Ferguson’s short play is elegantly self-contained, and delivers the twist in the tale with the deft blow of a confident, experienced writer. Andrew Gruen and Amy Fleming’s performances are an absolute scream.
Jacquie Penrose is another experienced writer on this evening’s bill, and her short play Listen concludes this evening’s performances. It is a great and encouraging trait of the Bare E-ssentials curation process that the work of experienced writers can be performed alongside debuts. Performer Amelia Parillon puts her audience on edge immediately, staring out of the darkness, her face is lit only by the phone she is recording her plea to ‘listen’ into. It is a solution so perfect to the lack of a set that I am surprised it has not been seen before in this series. Her up-close confessional to a partner she can no longer reach is punctuated by her count-down as the battery fades. She has a fear, like many of us at the moment, of that loss of contact. Of the impending silence. Short but eerily lingering, this is a little masterclass in monologue theatre.
Whilst far from fizzling or fatigued, tonight’s edition didn’t quite pull out all the stops that made last month’s a flat-out 5 star. I do not doubt however that there will be more laughs, gasps and moments of brilliance for us sofa dwellers in the near future, as Encompass continue to perfect their (now ‘Offie’ award-winning) formula for new writing LIVE under lockdown.