Review: ESSENCE, VAULT Festival

By: Feb. 23, 2020

Review: ESSENCE, VAULT Festival Review: ESSENCE, VAULT Festival

Elyot is a peculiar man. He lives ruled by an eccentric routine, learning new words, and listening to Beethoven and pop tunes from which he's removed all the sung parts. When Laquaya breaks into his house in Peckham, everything changes. His strict pattern blows up as she violently barges into his life.

Sara Henley tackles loneliness and denial in her newest heartwarming play Essence and Tori Allen-Martin directs Timothy O'Hara and Nina Barker-Francis. Their debut of the piece is tentative, and while it's clear that there's still a while to go before it's ready to have a substantial production, the show is a bundle of potential on all levels. O'Hara and Barker-Francis are spectacular in the delivery of their characters' idiosyncrasies.

The two are diametrically opposed in all their facets, including the soundscape they inhabit. Elyot is a 32-year-old who lives by himself wrapped up in his flow, slave to his interrogation of the meaning of life, and possibly concealing a number of mental health issues. Laquaya, 15 years old and lonely, desperately wants him to be on her team. Henley builds compelling figures, each of them residing in their own bubble that begs to be burst.

However, their interactions are, so far, quite off. Elyot's reaction to her presence in his home feels rather implausible, and there seem to be a sum of missing links between the events of the play. His introduction runs over its natural progression and the repetition of his actions - while establishing him as a character with precision - gets old very quickly when compared with the rest of the material.

Allen-Martin's direction is impressive in the gradual unfocusing of Elyot's habits and pace. With Ally Poole's sound design, the characters' music tastes overlap and break into each other, creating a sonic palette that heightens the similarity and divergence of the duo. As their eagerness to have a connection increases in Henley's script, the director imperceptibly alters their proximity and approach along with the visuals of the show.

Perhaps due to the Festival's time restrictions, the ending comes as an abrupt blow to the progress of the story. This could also explain the shortcomings mentioned before, but it's nothing that can't be fixed with a longer running time and some crease ironing. Henley and Allen-Martin solidify what everyone already knows: they're a force to be reckoned with, and in due course Essence will become the poignant and uplifting tale it demands to be.

Essence runs at VAULT Festival until 23 February.