Magic Gareth Live! – Review

Produced by Gareth White

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August in Scotland. The only four days of sun you’ll experience, no one seems to be wearing a shirt and of course the much beloved or dreaded Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Well… perhaps not this year. Or just maybe, with a little bit of luck and determination, a certain few will shine through and stage their own events. A local favourite, Gareth White has taken to digital performances throughout Lockdown, conducting well over 300 shows. Now, Magic Gareth Live! seeks to deliver that quality Fringe experience to newcomers and a few dab-hands.

Now, remember, if you can’t figure out the trick – well, that’s half the fun. Gareth’s repertoire primarily concerns the classics, with a couple of unique or digital twists (extra points for the Disney references). Chiefly aimed for the tots of the home, Gareth’s charismatic style is evidently targeting the family bracket, but don’t let those puns fool you – there’s some wit behind those cheeky grins. It’s entertainment for everyone, with enough back and forth discussion to involve adults and equally capture their sense of awe.

A compact routine, just over half an hour, Magic Gareth Live! fills a tremendous amount of jovial fun into the timeslot, more than enough to set those imaginations ablaze for the rest of the day. Personal, the Zoom feature shows Gareth control of the room, including any kids who want to get involved and have their days made or allowing those quieter tots to branch out a little and still involve themselves in their own way.

What’s particularly wonderful is Gareth’s refusal to cop-out a cheap get-away with a green screen. It’s there as a projection tool, to create a charming spellcaster’s locale rather than offer quick illusions or short-cuts in the magic. Technical wizardry only makes a brief appearance in a couple acts, while the remainder of Gareth’s set is a fine welcome to the world of the mystical as any tiny ones can hope for (and a way for the old fans to brush-up).

Sleight-of-hand, sleeves, and top hats, and even a jolly holiday – Magic Gareth Live! is a Fringe-lite experience without dealing with the crowds, heat, and expensive baked potatoes. Ideal for kids stuck at home, struggling to find a sparkle in their day-to-day activities, this live experience may be precisely the sort of jolt of energy they require.

Magic Gareth Live! is performing daily at 11am from August 2nd – August 9th. Tickets can be purchased from: https://www.magicgareth.co.uk/live2020

And if you’re feeling social, why not give Magic Gareth a follow on Facebook?

Bare E-ssentials 3: with a Vengeance – Encompass Productions

Produced by Liam Fleming, Rachael Owens & Jonathon Woodhouse

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Who says the sequels are never as good as the original? Back with a vengeance, Bare Essentials, one of London’s leading new creative writing evenings returns for their monthly reminder of the talent out there in the world. The now award evening 17th edition (third virtual), is as strong as ever and ready to grab life by the unmentionables and explore unique stories, original creators and some fresh takes.

This evening we’re treated to a quartet of fresh innovative writing, all helmed under the watchful eye of the charming host Liam Fleming. Each comprises different genres, styles and aesthetics, as these four pieces make up a cluster of imaginative premises, exceptionally prepared and thought-out through lockdown and isolation – many incorporating the now normal struggles, working with the limitations of COVID rather than actively struggling against.

Despite what pretences may come with new writings, nothing about Bare E-ssentials is scratch media or a melting pot, these are fully-fledged concepts with finished productions. Evident in the direction and writing, the online format opens up the conceptual dynamics of the shorts, where inspirations from cinema and theatre are seeded into original concepts.

First up, there’s a set of Rules which must always be adhered to in life, especially those concerning sex and friends. Lucy Jamieson’s short production takes two friends stuck at home, Jess and Alex, as they lament the struggles of life, and the difficulties of balancing relationships, friendships, and syphilis. Together the pair have terrific energy and chemistry, and the jarring sense of the comedy settles quickly, with Rachael Owens direction coming over as a Channel 4 pilot episode. It’s the richest laugh of the evening, and the finest way to start.

It isn’t all giggles and comradery, however, as both Emma Dawson’s Stones Around My Neck and Jacquie Penrose’s Listen take a substantially darker turn, well – it wouldn’t be a new writing night without this turn. Sat alone, Deborah Garvey effortlessly holds attention in Dawson’s piece as she reflects on the relationship (or lack of) with her youngest daughter, and the influence she has had weighing down aspects of her life – sombre, it’s an investable performance. Equally, a combination of Fleming’s direction with Amelia Parillon’s performance in Penrose’s chilling Listen, which perhaps adheres to the idea of a shot in lockdown the quickest.

Throughout are reminders as to why the recent session of Bare E-ssentials was the honourable winner of an Oncomm Award. The creativity practicality behind scripts, particularly James C Ferguson’s The Chair, where Jonathon Woodhouse’s direction shows how Encompass Productions takes steps beyond the traditional shot-at-home premise, elevating the pieces and working some of the stretched writing mechanics.

An essential lifeblood for the arts community across the nation, Bare E-ssentials is a brief monthly reminder of the exceptional community we’re at risk of losing. Episode 4 of the online series is due to release on August 26th, and couldn’t be recommended enough with a small glass of your favourite and some solid company. And while there’s no possible way to know what spectacles, wonders and oddities may emerge from that evening, it’s safe to say there will be a tremendous showcase of emerging and undervalued talent.

Further information about Bare E-ssentials can be found at Encompass Productions: http://www.encompassproductions.co.uk

You can catch the third installment, and catch up on the rest, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amwtba7YPN0

Jury Duty – Electric Dreams Online

Created by Joe Ball and Tom Black

Rating: 5 out of 5.

As ‘fake news’ sweeps the globe, a triumphantly manipulative tool prioritised by ad-agencies, social media and (distressingly) politicians, more and more the dangers of this digital age manipulation grow. Toying with this concept, highlighting its intrusions in more than the public sphere, into the private, political, and judicial, Exit Productions have crafted a spectacularly innovative, wily, and layered experience of live theatre with Jury Duty.

Everyone has an opinion, now more so than ever, but just how valuable is your judgement? Are barristers and law degrees worth their salt when Mitchell from Sunderland has seen every episode of The Good Wife? If people think they know better than the professionals, well, this is the opportunity to put those binged hours of Making A Murderer to the test. Jury Duty places you and several others in a virtual court, led by the Ministry of Justice themselves. So how will you find the accused?

A fire, a corpse, and a conspiracy which could sweep the news world and send the country into rebellion, Jury Duty focuses on a new fictitious style of court proceedings being trialled across the UK. A virtual jury will question, deduce, and pass judgement on the defence as part of the recently formed Justice Act (2020). The defendant, Harry Briggs, is accused of arson, manslaughter and murder, and as the jury splits themselves to dive through mountains of evidence, question the defendant and come together to forge a verdict, oddities emerge, stories fail to line up and maybe, just maybe, the experience will ripple from the screen and into your real life.

The intricate level of balancing a story, where multiple players can throw a spanner into the works, elevates Jury Duty from a simplistic narrative into a complex production involving masterfully adept improvisation from Tom Black. Able to interact with the defendant is, of course, unusual for the jury, but the layout of Zoom and incorporation of liveness produces a diverse range from Black, who can respond to the good cops, the bad cops and the sympathetic cops with equal ability.

And while it may solely be Black onscreen, a more sinister presence is felt from The Coordinator, Joe Ball, who by the end of the session seems less orchestrator and more problematic. Involving multiple media, Jury Duty leeches itself into other avenues to force Jurors into their own espionage antics and trust exercises. Daring not to spoil an ounce, don’t be surprised if you begin to question everyone and everything. The intertextual play at work is extraordinary, and though it may panic you at first viewing, the series of documents, audio files, riddles and… well, that’s for the jury to discover…are easy to follow.

Then again, spoilers needn’t worry readers, as each session is unique given the dexterity in the team’s manipulation of events, and of course the refresh of jurors between sessions. Gradually these strangers will form a unit, as the case becomes more investible, reinforced by Black’s emotional performance. The incorporation of Zoom enables groups to banter, divulge and share screens to build upon the mystery. Fear not plunging down the rabbit hole, as Exit Productions maintains a guiding hand, and a friendly steer for key moments.

Calculative, Jury Duty builds on a world it carefully stitches, gradually morphing an engaging piece into an in-depth explosion of drama, intrigue, and beguiling storytelling. If there was a crime for innovation, Exit Productions is unquestionably guilty.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/jury-duty-electric-dreams-online-festival/

Continues until 13 August 2020. Tickets and information available from Electric Dreams Festival website.