Review | Encompass at Groundlings Theatre, Portsmouth: “Gripping drama and compelling performances”

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This thought-provoking collection of plays showcases the breadth of Portsmouth’s talent.

Portsmouth-based writers Roger Goldsmith and Janet Rawson are on a roll. Over the past year, they’ve delighted local audiences with several collections of their plays, and their latest partnership Encompass is set to do the same.

Comprising three short pieces set over different time periods – past, present and future – Encompass is a varied menu of drama which explores the good and bad of human nature. Two professional actors, Joseph Scatley and April Singley, play all roles.

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The first half brings two solo pieces from Goldsmith. The Deserter is a thoughtful drama set after the war. It tells the story of troubled young soldier Jack and his unexpected encounter with a deserter found in a barn. As Jack is forced to confront his past, we are forced to consider the complex nature of forgiveness.

Encompass is at The Groundlings, Portsea from November 1-4, 2023. Picture by Martin WilloughbyEncompass is at The Groundlings, Portsea from November 1-4, 2023. Picture by Martin Willoughby
Encompass is at The Groundlings, Portsea from November 1-4, 2023. Picture by Martin Willoughby

Birth is set in the present. Sybil is a repressed mother whose life is now on the up, despite – and perhaps because of – the traumas she has faced. Full of challenging questions, it left me thinking that life isn’t always so black and white.

Two things stand out from the first half. One is Goldsmith’s remarkable storytelling ability as he uses an apparently simple monologue to introduce a range of different characters. The other is the quality of the performances. Scatley is so convincing that I hardly remembered he was acting, while Singley almost immerses you into personal conversation.

After the interval, Janet Rawson’s quirky play 2049AD brings both actors together in a flawless two-handed performance. The human race is dying out and desperate times call for desperate measures. But when we join Derek at a most unusual job interview, all is not as it seems. Full of surprises and sexual tension, this dark comedy left me questioning everyone’s motives – and thinking about the future.

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Encompass is well-paced and held my interest throughout. Be warned, however, that it makes for fairly intense viewing with edgy themes and probably more shocks than laughs.

Overall, this is gripping writing and compelling acting which would not be out of place on a London stage. With talent like this on our doorstep, it would be a shame to miss it.

Until Saturday, November 4. Tickets £12, concessions £10 at