REVIEW: Bare Essentials (Above the Arts Theatre)

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Encompass Productions’ ‘Bare Essentials’ night, which after starting in 2010, has now found itself a new home at the Arts Theatre in the heart of the West End.

‘Bare Essentials’ is a cabaret-style night full of new writing, with pieces picked from the hundreds that are submitted to Encompass from around the world.  It’s not a scratch night, but a ‘micro theatre’ night, as each piece is directed, rehearsed, and polished, before being performed on the night.

We were treated to six pieces, ranging from comedy to drama, monologue, and series of sketches. Stephen Kennedy’s ‘Shoud’ve Gone to Lourdes’ provided a lighthearted start to the evening, with a short scene of two brothers (one in a wheelchair) in a brothel in Amsterdam. The second piece, ‘Monstrification of Easter Europe’ by Nina Wieda, had to be watched with more concentration. Beginning with recorded sounds of Donald Trump and various political interviews of the past year, the piece revolved around a play about Eastern Europe, and the idea of fake news and what is being reported as true. It was a topical piece, and one which perhaps will do better when in the context of the play it’s from, as with just a scene alone it took some time to grasp what was happening.

The final act of the first half was the confusingly wonderful ‘Town Meeting’ by Toby Parker Rees. I’m not going to lie, I’m not sure what I watched, but it was certainly interesting. A strange mixture of an exorcism and ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. It involved audience participation and had us all laughing, but whether that was the intention I do not know.

‘Monstrification of Eastern Europe’

The night was hosted by Liam Fleming, a great host who really set the mood for the evening. Though the work was professional, Fleming set up the evening as really relaxed and casual, encouraging us to tweet our thoughts on the pieces and really get involved.

Act two began with the chilling ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ by  Ben Beck, a monologue performed by Duncan Mason (who I recently saw in Boy Stroke Girl). A really well written piece, the scene explored fear in theatre, and the idea of how audiences just assume everything said on stage is scripted, when instead it could be much more sinister. The piece definitely had me worrying and planted a seed of doubt in my mind as to whether Mason was indeed going to shoot the gun he had with him on stage.


‘Roommates’ by Matthew Fowler was next, a clever duologue about twin girls sharing a room – their mother’s womb. The comedy was hit well by the actors (Rebecca Hutchins and Phoebe Batteson-Brown) and was perhaps my favourite piece of the evening! The final piece of the evening was ‘Generation Disconnect: And Other Love Stories’ by Kate Christopher, a series of vignettes performed by Andrew Gichigi, Roann McLoskey, and Alexander Pankhurst. Each scene was based around millenial life and our connection to technology, such as Tinder bios, one night stands, and hangovers. It was a really funny sketch, and one I could relate to, though there was a scene which had the performers reciting typical social media actions (‘poke me’, ‘friend me’, ‘like me’), before dissolving into more intimate actions such as ‘hug me’, or ‘find someone with me’. It felt a tiny bit cringe and made me slide down in my seat a tad.

‘Bare Essentials’ was such a great night, and I’m definitely going to try and come along to the next one. Thanks to Encompass Productions for inviting me!

I was given a press ticket for this event, but all views are my own. Image credits to Encompass Productions.

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