VAULT FESTIVAL REVIEW: Essence ★★★
The Cresent, Vault Festival
Friday 21st - Sunday 23rd February 2020
Elyot (Timothy O'Hara) lives in Peckham, where he takes bite-size language lessons, listens to music without lyrics, and leaves his window open. On such a day, Laquaya (Nina Barker-Francis) enters through Elyot's window and starts making herself at home, after all she is certain that the man who owns the house is in fact her father, who abandoned his family when Laquaya was just four years old to live alone and never find love again. Essentially, the plot of Sarah Henley's script is that of the description above but drawn out into a 60 minute production which constantly has you checking your watch as time seems to come to a hault.
Elyot doesn't come across to begin with as a likeable guy, in fact he's rather irratating in his ways with constant alarms and changing of his records; O'Hara is stable in his portrayal, who you could almost like him to Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Barker-Francis' entrance is one that pucks up the pace and energy as she runs down the audience steps to a grime track, and is played as a sensible 14 year old girl who just wants answers, and in fact has a notebook with a scripted monologue planned, though her nerves get the better. Together, both performers are an unlikely match, and they don't really find the time to connect, though this could also been seen as a pleasing when a certain model set upon a table is tampered with in frustration and rage.
Director Tori Allen-Martin has done a great job in creating polar opposite arcs for the actors, from music tastes of Hip Hop vs Grime, to their daily routines of either freedom or a deep sense of reclusiveness, though in some moments the use of repition is obvious; flip charts up stage of the action are a nice touch in some parts when physically motioned to throughout, but it gets a little tiresome when more tension could be built on the script, which never feels challenging enough for two characters who are both as scared as eachother for this new turning point in their lives.
Overall, Essence feels flat at times through an unclear script which feels too smart for its audience, and not enough layering of the history between each other, though O'Hara and Barker-Francis are both wonderful in creating personas that we can gradually warm towards.