Review: Bare E-ssentials, Encompass Productions

The tenth edition of Encompass Production’s reoccurring night of ‘micro-theatre’, Bare E-ssentials breaks the mould by being the first iteration to exist online. However, as a result of this change in form, the night faced significant challenges: with many technical difficulties, Bare E-ssentials unfortunately spent much of the night putting out fires. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “the show must go on” and each of the four short pieces presented were examples of how theatre can succeed in a virtual space.

Opening the collection was Teresa Espejo’s The Big 30!, which features newly-thirty-year-old Lauren (Sian Eleanor Green) as she takes stock of her romantic life, reflecting on her interpersonal success and failures. Green, who has appeared in a past edition of Bare Essentials, succeeds well as the introspective birthday girl, expertly balancing her desire to celebrate with the romantic ennui that haunts the character. However, whilst the vast majority of the piece is effective in discussing the unique challenges a 30-year-old bachelorette must face, the piece falters towards the end. Indeed, after 10 minutes of waxing poetic on a past flame and how she thinks she would be a great mother, Lauren simply leaves: with an ending this brusque, it is difficult for the audience to feel like the themes and story of the piece are resolved.

Following The Big 30! was meant to be Vintage by Lucy Kaufman… however due to issues with copyrighted music being used, the piece had to be abandoned due to the sound not working. Instead, Encompass posted a recording of Vintage the following day, which is fortunate considering it is one of the stronger pieces presented. Seemingly a 1940s period piece about a couple going to therapy, the play slowly unravels shocking twist after shocking twist, leaving the audience to question both the sanity of the characters, as well as their own unknown complicity to this craziness. Indeed, the only duologue of the night, Kaufman utilises their dialogue adeptly, infusing their lovey-dovey back-and-forth with period references and witty retorts; its Ross and Rachel from Friends by way of Dad’s Army. It’s a shame this level of comedic control was lost on the night, but thankfully the piece is available in perpetuity on Encompass’ YouTube channel.

Next was another piece by Kaufman, Radio Foreplay, which shone as the highlight of the night. Performed immaculately by Alexander Pankhurst, the piece reveals the petty politics that rule the Radio 4’s play department. Complete with haggling over profanities, debates on innuendo, and the complex question of how to portray a physical tick on the radio; Kaufmann delivers laugh after laugh. Reinforced by Pankhurst’s brilliant characterisation of the cloying, conniving ‘Robin Phillips’, Radio Foreplay was the standout of the set, and we can only hope it finds a chance to be performed again in the flesh sometime in the future.

Finally, the show was meant to close with Little Boy by John Foster, but, again, this piece had to be abandoned due to malfunctioning sound. Now also available online, Little Boy is nevertheless one of the more difficult intended performances of the evening. Centred around the shattered psyche of the mysterious speaker, the piece touches on ideas of life after conflict and how war affects our mental health. Passionately performed by James Unsworth, the piece is intense and imaginative, if a little incoherent.

Although Bare E-ssentials did struggle to exhibit the pieces in a ‘live’ capacity, thankfully one defining aspect of digital theatre is that it can be offered and accessed later on, which is great considering the quality of the plays presented. In this sense, perhaps the stumbles they initially had shouldn’t be dwelled on, and we should instead congratulate the creatives who offered some impressive work despite these trying times.

Bare E-ssentials is available on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. For more information and tickets visit Encompass Productions’ website.