Essence is a 60 minute play written by Sarah Henley and directed by Tori Allen-Martin. It tells the story of Elyot, a 32-year-old living in Peckham, who is dictated by his world view that life is about incremental progress. Living in what seems to be an ordinary flat, we soon discover that Elyot is bound by the chains of time; being moved from one activity to the next by the constant reminder of his alarm. However, his world soon changes as his house is unexpectedly broken into by a 14-year-old, Laquaya, whose reason for this intrusion impacts Elyot’s carefully constructed world.
This is a story in which two unlikely characters meet, but find their difference is what will eventually bring them together. I’m always a great fan of theatrical performances that offer their two pence worth into the all-time favourite question: ‘what is the meaning of life?’ For humans experiencing their time on earth, there is no better way to raise this question than through the arts. Essence, whilst a comedic and light-hearted piece, was able to suggest what brings meaning to our lives through two very different perspectives whilst also dealing with other key themes such as loneliness and the complexities of human relationships.
“Henley shows herself to be an intelligent and weighty voice”
Sarah Henley’s clever and poignant script, rich in metaphors and symbolism, provided me with a wealth of ideas on which to ponder. I would love to get hold of the script to be able to delve deeper into it. There were so many times throughout this piece that a character delivered a thought or a belief that really sparked in me a desire for further reflection. Henley shows herself to be an intelligent and weighty voice that made my heart leap in awe at her poetic skill.
Essence was truly an excellently thought out and detailed production from start to finish. I was impressed from the moment I walked in by the set that was simple yet effective. I really loved the composition of the design. All items complimented one another and gave an insight into the world that we were about to enter. It was a set that allowed my mind to begin to imagine its inhabitant and provoked my curiosity.
It does not surprise me that Henley and Allen-Martin have had a working relationship for 20 years. Allen-Martin demonstrates her craftsmanship as a strong creative director through her ability to combine theatrical elements such as Alex Lewer’s admirable lighting design and Ally Poole’s superb sound design; and create an efficacious piece of theatre where all of these elements symbiotically work together.
Timothy O’Hara plays Elyot; he is rambunctious and, at first, an impenetrable wall, lacking in emotions, living an existence that one could deem robotic. He was a joy to watch throughout, committing fully to this quirky character and was able to make me quickly fall in love with Elyot’s eccentricity. He was just genuinely funny with so many great comedic moments that at times were just down right silly but heart warming to watch.
Equally, Nina Barker-Francis, who plays Laquaya, truly enamoured me with her character and I was impressed at how quickly I believed her to be a 14-year-old. At first, her character really grated on me because of how echinate and brass she was: unruly, breaking things and the epitome of a chaos entering Elyot’s world. Nevertheless, Barker-Francis was able to embody teenage angst and vulnerability with ease and believability, making her performance a pleasure to experience.
“A must-watch piece of theatre that sets a standard of excellence”
I would like to congratulate both actors on their excellent and engaging performances. They both supported one another and never let the ball drop. It was an example of true collaboration and their performance was filled with lilliputian moments that added layers to the piece, without which the show would have not been nearly as much fun to watch. Their characters’ transformations were evidence of the actors’ craft. Both actors owned the space with their own energy and presence each interacting with the set in different ways that gave further insight into the differences of their character which meant that as the story progressed the set too transformed only adding to the demonstration of the influence that each character had on the space. This meant that all aspects of the performance had a sense of progression, development and movement which in itself was symbolic of both characters’ journey through this piece.
Overall, Essence is a must-watch piece of theatre that sets a standard of excellence for the VAULT festival. Thank you for creating a piece of art that uplifted my soul, inspiring me as a creative and teaching me some new words.
Essence ran at the VAULT Festival in the Crescent space until the 23rd February, 2020.