Short but enthralling, Encompass Productions are back from a two year hiatus to beam some high-quality, no-budget new writing into our homes.
As the UK lockdown lingers on, Encompass productions have come out of hibernation to share their 15th – and first online – edition of their Bare Essentials new writing night. It has aptly been re-named Bare E-ssentials, to stress the change in format, but the ‘stripped-back’, no-budget concept remains the same. Two performances were live on the night with a company member serving as compere, and two pre-recorded and available after the live broadcast.
In the four pieces of writing selected from a reported 2000 submissions, all set props and costumes have been found in the homes of the performers and directors. The three monologues and one dualogue take place in small spaces, actor’s flats and a garage, but this mild sense of claustrophobia does not take away from the performances and the work, indeed the effect of every performer addressing directly to camera is arresting and holds the attention as we hold their gaze. In a theatre setting this level of intimacy would be impossible.
Each selection although not originally intended for film, has been intelligently curated and directed to use the change in format to its advantage. In Vintage, a dualogue between a couple so charmed by vintage nostalgia and Blitz spirit they have chosen to remain living in 1942, we as the silent viewers stand in for their couples’ therapist who by remaining silent, only add to the hysteria and subsequent comedy.
Silent therapist is also our role in Little Boy, a darker short play based on the true-life story of Claude Eatherly, the American war ‘Anti-hero’ who as part of the team who dropped the Hiroshima bomb was diagnosed with ‘battle fatigue’ later in life. James Unsworth’s no-holds-barred performance asks us to question the notion of the ‘War Hero’ in American society, as his frantic eyes bore into ours. Is he really sick, is he the only one of the lot of them who is sane? The production values on this particular pre-recording are a cut above the rest.
Both Radio Foreplay and The Big 30 feature phones as a device to link to the ‘off-stage’ outside world, another writing tool that works well in the filmed format. In Radio Foreplay a delightfully silly phone conversation is taking place between an eccentric radio producer played by Alexander Pankhurst – I don’t think I have ever had such an extreme close up of an actor’s teeth! – A disgruntled playwright and his skeptical colleague. If phone sex does it for you, you’ll be in stitches.
The Big 30 follows a woman on the brink played with charisma by Sian Eleanor Green, attached to WhatsApp on her phone but afraid to leave her flat and face the real-world realities of her life stretching out in front of her. Something is lost in the circumstance of this piece; I don’t think in the present climate we can find as much empathy for a woman who is able to leave her flat at any time and socialise with real-life human beings! A wistfulness perhaps, or a jealousy.
Encompass Productions have lit a creative spark with Bare E-ssentials and truly shown that it doesn’t take a big budget or even a theatre for good writing to shine. The delivery needs a little work, as some technical hitches interrupted their intended scheduling and the overall experience was missing a more interactive element, but I sincerely hope their ethos and approach will inspire some watchers out there to give it a go themselves.