There are moments of brilliance in Empty Vessels and moments that… aren’t so brilliant. Leaving the Rosemary Branch Theatre after this hour and half long performance, I felt a touch frustrated at the missed opportunities and occasionally hammy execution. Mostly this comes down to writer Greg Freeman, whose script ultimately gets bogged down by its own drollness, and Freeman’s apparent desire to berate the audience incessantly about the evils of social media. There is some clever dialogue in Empty Vessels and some of the writing really shines, but when the insertion of witty repartee between characters takes the place of a cohesive plot and a layered message, then there is a problem.
Freeman’s idea is that social media and reality TV is bad. Really bad. And we shouldn’t be using it. At all. And what is reality nowadays? And etcetera etcetera. It increasingly becomes irrelevant to a plot that left me confused, and by the conclusion I felt somewhat that I had just been given a stern telling off for ever having even thought about signing up to Facebook. This, coupled with the unrelated Greek mythology that the play fixates upon, is slightly jarring.
Having said that, the acting in the production is generally solid throughout, and I was particularly impressed by Ben Warwick’s protagonist Eric. Tobias Deacon as Travis, Sophia Hannides as Athena and Fliss Walton as Bethany all produce good performances, though the Welsh accent on display from Deacon is so bad in parts that he should write to the descendants of Owain Glyndŵr to apologise. Aside from potentially causing a Welsh independence referendum, Deacon possesses a good sense of comic timing and brings a deal of loveable, scruffy panache to the play. Hannides’s Athena is ice-cold-looks-that-could-kill, and Walton’s ear-to-ear cheeriness is a well-executed facade to hide her neuroses.
The set and lighting for the production are notable, and are as close to a Greek island as you can get ina room above a pub in sunny England, with what I imagine was a small budget. Acropolis-style columns dominate the backdrop and various yellow washes complete the illusion. It was a good day at the office for lighting and set design.
Overall, I’d recommend watching Empty Vessels. It certainly has its problems, and you have to be prepared to forgive the occasional plot hole, but it is a funny performance in a theatre that deserves its OffWestEnd.com award for ‘Most Welcoming North London Theatre’.
Empty Vessels is playing at the Rosemary Branch Theatre until 17 October. For more information and tickets, see the Rosemary Branch website. Photo: Richard Worts.