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

Extra Ordinary – Netflix

Written & Directed by: Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman

If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, the last person you’d call is the driving instructor, right? Well, in quaint, middle-of-nowhere Ireland, this is precisely who to reach out to for all your ectoplasmic queries. Where other than rural Ireland could you stumble upon satanic rituals, pernickety ghouls, and humour in death? The perfect setting for Extra Ordinary, unassuming horror-comedy surrounding grief, regrets and farce.

Cult status, it’s a prize some deem worthy for a piece of cinema. One can’t shake the feeling, that this is what is instore for Extra Ordinary, at least in a minor sense. This unashamedly self-aware horror meets romantic-comedy knows precisely the story it wants to tell, and is only tumbling slightly in execution. Rose is a driving instructor in (very) rural Ireland, with one unique talent – Rose can communicate with the dead. A gift she shuns out of regret in having a part to play in her father’s death. That is, of course, until Martin Martin requests an exorcism.

There’s a surprising finesse in portraying banal – especially in a film which draws humour in the deceased. Martin Martin is now a widower with a teenage daughter to raise, his deceased wife Bonnie regularly haunting, possessing and generally being a pain in the arse, even in death. Barry Ward grounds the performance, which heightens the otherworldly aspects surrounding the character, but equally as capable in delivering hilarious physical comedy.

In the absolute reverse, Ahern and Loughman’s decision to cram a part of the narrative with, what they perceive, as twists and excess, costs the film an otherwise near-perfect package. At first, the doily coated Exorcist is a quaint, zany comedy, bolstering an oddly sweet gallery of characters, who plunge headfirst in foiling the antics of Will Forte as Satanist Christian Winter. Less a Faustian terror, more bumbling sitcom neighbour, the direction here fumbles as the comedy which put the fun in funeral, now seems intent on shoehorning tension, the over-the-top drama becoming more transparent than any supernatural creature.

Their saving grace, Maeve Higgins as Rose, carries such sincerity it’s easy to surrender to the lunacy of the script. The delivery plays into Extra Ordinary’s style, with its lashings of classic horror references, screwball moments and vintage VHS requiring a team able to ground the film, yet maintain momentum and world-building. No one excels at this better than Higgins, who captures an authentic sense of humour, concealing the loneliness she feels. This tenderness from Higgins demonstrates Ahern and Loughman’s written capability, marrying ludicrous comedy with fragility. Rose often identifies with the spectres she communicates with, unseen, unloved and alone, whilst Martin Martin’s throw-away line about “speaking with anyone, even a driving instructor, opens the doors to a frankness about death.

Visually, the set dressings and props reinforce an aesthetic, but cinematography limits itself to practicality. No reason to stretch for an art-house feel, there’s a distinct lack of manipulation or attempt at framing Extra Ordinary outside of medium or close-up shots. Instead, focus shifts to effects; notably the hazy, VHS 4:3 aspect segments which break-up the acts of the film, complete with title cards and choppy audio. They’re excellent visual gags, which hark back to those cassettes all shelves had, but with no origins materialising from nowhere.

Ahern and Loughman’s Extra Ordinary conjures those wicked nostalgia demons of the mid-eighties to the early nineties. There’s more than a fleeting similarity to the spirit of Edgar Wright or Stephen Volk, but Ahren and Loughman’s film is certainly of their conception, a determined pastiche with as much life as it has love for both horror and comedy. 

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/extra-ordinary/

Extra Ordinary is availale for streaming now on Netflix

Myra Dubois: Dead Funny – Underbelly Bristo Square

Myra DuBois – the quadruple threat star of film, television and stage – is dead. Thank god. The world just wasn’t ready for this talent, incapable of holding itself to the high calibre Myra would expect. And so, we gather in the presence of friends, fans and total strangers to pay our respects as DuBois conducts her own funeral. Who else could do her justice?

At any Fringe show you will hear one sentence above all else: ‘Fill from the front please‘. That’s the danger zone, especially for a drag act, but Dubois’ AdMyras scramble in for their masochistic fix. With dignity, cruelty, an ounce of contempt and a restraining order, Myra can handle her crowd.

Dubois’ control, timing, and snap judgements as to who will play along are exquisite. This is someone who knows their craft, understands precisely what they can and cannot pull off, and when to dial the level up a few notches. Returning to the Fringe, she may be inside a shipping container, but this is easily her most well-constructed show to date. Song, dance, wit and a few dark moments come together. It seems there is nothing this woman cannot do, except die gracefully, or hit every note…

Diana was the people’s Princess; well, Myra is the people’s Queen. Dubois, a triumphant example of British Drag, balances the old-school grit of the artform while injecting it with rejuvenated venom.

Review originally published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-fringe/theatre/myra-dubois-dead-funny

Photo Credit – Holly Revell