Empty Vessels, Rosemary Branch

Bethany runs a work-in-progress writers’ retreat on an idyllic Greek island. Her current guests are realty TV star lad’s lad Travis who is paying her to ghostwrite his autobiography, and Eric, a hippie idealist who chucked in his comfortable life to write a fantasy novel set in the present day based in Greek mythology. When mysterious biker chick Athena turns up looking for username Ferryman4 in response to his online advert of souls for sale, Eric’s fantasy starts to look rather like reality.

This dark comedy by Greg Freeman directed by Ken McClymont has an interesting premise and is chocka with witty one-liners. A couple of the characters could use a bit more detail and the dialogue can be a bit clunky, sometimes obviously spelling out plot development unnecessarily. The main thread of the plot is quickly predictable, but doesn’t interfere with enjoyment of the character-driven comedy. With nods to online identity vs. real life, narcissistic selfie culture, and the relevance of ancient history in the modern day, Empty Vessels shares socially relevant messages with a hefty dose of humour and without being preachy.

Travis (Tobias Deacon) is the most entertaining of the four characters, an amusingly abhorrent young man epitomizing the self-obsessed who determine the value of the life by the number of followers they have on social media. He and Eric (Ben Warwick) have some frustratingly funny opening clashes that resemble Christmas dinner with your UKIP voting cousin. Deacon gleefully gets stuck into Travis’s despicable character, but Warwick has less to work with as Eric, who comes across as well-intentioned but confused much of the time, which is less interesting to watch.

The set is simple but not sparse, probably quite cheap, and clearly indicates the setting with a couple of pillars, an army of potted plants, and concrete blocks. Constructed by Jules Darker and presumably designed by McClymont, it immediately evokes Greece. It’s a lesson in how fringe theatre sets don’t have to be sparse to save money, unless there really is no budget for one. Leo Steele’s lighting is warm and inviting, with sharp transitions to show change in time of day and mood. These transitions are wonderfully quick, with no lost momentum.

This one-act also looks at humanity in a positive light despite the mocking of Narcissus’ descendants. The final scene’s revelation is both funny and endearing after the Comedy of Errors-esque soul swapping. It also gives Sophia Hannides (Athena) a chance to showcase her range. Even with the self-obsession of today’s society fostered by the dominance of online presence, there are still gods amongst us who have the power to wake us up and refocus attention onto the real here and now rather than on a smartphone screen.

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