Live theatre as we know it may still be on standby but at Encompass productions ‘the show must go on’ and they have made a gallant return with the 2nd edition of their Bare E-ssentials New Writing Night. Strictly speaking, this is the 16th edition but it is important to recognise that this is their 2nd edition in locked down conditions.
This 2nd edition is a return to form, a stripped back ‘bare-essentials’ writing night with no props/ set/ budget provided, but there is a noticeable improvement to Encompass’s delivery. Gone are the technical glitches and sound woes which impeded some enjoyment last month, this iteration is an all-live edition with smooth transitions, an even funnier, slicker, costume changing host (NB. same person, the charming Liam Fleming), and even an inspired sign off. “Be kind, we can’t rewind” Fleming warns us, but as far as I can tell it went without a hitch. There is a special blend of tension and glee that can only come from watching theatre live, just in case something does go off-kilter. Encompass are bold to try it, and it’s exhilarating to watch them succeed.
The opening act ‘Every Seven Minutes’ by Ken Preuss makes a strong start. Have you ever wondered where they get the statistics for ‘One [blank] for every [X] amount of minutes’ comes from? This office has the answer. With a computer running a random generator program and a creative array of props, these office workers are setting it all off from their desk. Every seven minutes a double rainbow appears? Quick! Pass the rainbow crayon. Sinkhole? An unappetising bowl of what looks like angel delight and breadcrumbs is produced and jabbed at with a finger. A drowning? An unfortunate Lego figure simulates the victim as though it were a small voodoo doll. Preuss succeeds at being both funny and serious as talk from the new employee turns to ‘playing God’, the potential responsibility we as humans hold over the fates of others in the work we do, and the prospect of living our lives controlled by gifs. Whether the sweat on Ryan Brannon’s brow is as a result of his fiery performance or climatic conditions, it is effective nonetheless. This piece particularly benefits from the ‘up-in-your-face’ viewing angle film allows.
From an ‘up-in-your-face’ view to being sat at the kitchen table, ‘Spread’ by Robbie Knox listens in on two relatives trying to come to an agreement on a tombstone inscription for their late great aunt. With their parents already passed on and a generation gap between them, they are struggling to capture the legacy of a woman they have to admit they barely knew. Knox’s writing beautifully captures the difficult crux of having to be both sensitive, but truthful, in death. What truly is a legacy, but what we remember? Cassie argues. What lives on after death but the difference we made to someone else’s life? However simple. Anyone who has ever been talked over in a Zoom call, will also be able to relate.
‘Spud’ is a funny and delightfully silly little morsel from Robert Wallis that tells the woeful tale of two sentient potatoes, getting baked. The agog eyes of Liz McMullen and Richard Coffey blink out from beneath two silver space blankets, the kind you are used to seeing on marathon runners, which perfectly seals the tin-foil fate of these potato brethren. It’s may be short, but it’s sweet (potato) and perfectly placed before the final piece of the night. It’s the sort of strangeness that sticks with you, I can already feel their eyes on me the next time I subject a spud to the perils of the oven.
The final piece of the night is a returning writer to Encompass from 2016, Keith Gow. Whether it is down to feedback or purely the scripts they received, there has been a reversal and the duologue reigns (3 out of 4 pieces) in this edition. Gow’s ‘Like a House on Fire’ is the only monologue of the night but it’s arresting protagonist, a pyromaniac arsonist in recovery, makes it worth waiting for. Rachel Nott’s eyes light up as she pictures the flame on the end of the matches she is no longer allowed, her tongue flicks over her teeth as she remembers the ecstasy of watching things burn. It’s an altogether gloriously intoxicating and deeply sinister experience.
Production team, writers and creatives alike have come together for an hour of live theatre truly worthy of the applause they can’t hear, where the quality of the writing shines beyond the bare white walls of the curtain-less, audience-free performance spaces. For now, in the hands of Encompass, the essentials are all we need!