Almost Random: random as ever, and wonderfully worth it

One theatre group, two nights, six plays. Almost Random Theatre (ART) is barely twenty months old and has begun 2014 with a stomping start. On offer were six brand new pieces: four from the winners and runners-up of two playwriting competitions two plays by ART founder and producer Chris Sivewright.

Sivewright’s School Assembly explores the twisting suffocations of jealousy and the drive for revenge. A teacher (Paul Barrand) discovers that his close friend and colleague (Simon Donahue) has had an affair with his wife. Despite unpersuasive advice to ‘keep things private’ from a headmistress (Angela Myers) desperate to avoid bad publicity, confrontation takes place and, as the play ends, it seems that so too has disaster. Paul Barrand captures ferociously the fuming agonies of a man who feels himself wronged, his body shaking in furious tension throughout. Some strange moments of script (no man genuinely devastated at the infidelity of his wife would make a bad pun about another man ‘popping in’ to her body) didn’t prevent the play from being thoughtful about the gap between appearance and conduct, although it could have been subtler, showing more and telling less.

Next up was Lisa Nicoll’s Poedunk, a black comedy in which a fourteen-year-old girl visits a psychiatrist who seems to have problems far worse than hers. The joy of this play was all in the words, with frenzied moments unfolding at perfect pitch. Ellen Publicover’s Pippi is marvellous: frantic, overthinking, self-torturing, and yet also self-empowering, determined to prove that she can make life better. Her delivery was superbly matched by Victor Ptak’s Dr Igor Harvatz. This 20-minute play has a clever twist and an interesting storyline, but what really shone through was a talent for expression that belonged to script and actors alike.

Monday’s final play, just 10-minutes long, was Pool Boy, by Edwin Preece. Although the most modest—minimal props, no flashy lighting, cast of two, action grounded in dialogue—this was also the sharpest of the Monday plays. The script is eerie, and smart, lulling the audience into the complacent sense that they have guessed the denouement, only completely to surprise them in the play’s final moments. Both actors (Soraya I-Ting and Marcus Davis-Orrom) mastered their roles, manipulating well the economy of the script.

Tuesday began Chris Sivewright’s second offering, Transformation. This play felt more sincere than School Assembly, if less coherent. Schoolgirl Emily (Rachel Eireann) is doing a school-project on well-being and has asked her grandfather (Richard Ward) for help—although it doesn’t seem that she actually needs it, given that when he is talking she tends to spend most of her time texting her friends or frowning in boredom. The relationship between the pair could have done with a little more honing: Emily spends so much time huffing or ignoring her grandfather that the closeness the storyline needs to claim for them isn’t quite believable. He seems charming, she obnoxious. The play seems more about the ills of modern life than anything else, which makes grandpa’s plea to be kept involved in the changing times sound disingenuous. And of course, ultimately, it is grandpa who shows Emily that he knows what it is to have a good time.

Jonathan Skinner’s Kind is a consummately structured piece, and my favourite of the shows. Six short scenes show the turning of fortune’s wheel as rich Richard and penniless Penny swap places. Dick wants the homeless Penny off his posh pavement and even gives her a tenner to disappear. But the two become acquaintances. The play’s plot is obvious early on, and it is part of the play’s strength that it remains absorbing even though we know how it will end. Penny (played gloriously by Rachel Eireann) seems to be one of life’s winners, even when her luck is low; her way of looking at things transcends that of the naïve young girl. Richard (Simon Donahue), on the other hand, is miserable even when things seem good and one can’t help worrying as the play ends that, unlike Penny, he won’t be able to leave homelessness behind him. Perhaps the play isn’t about kindness so much as life-attitude.

Ian Fletcher’s The Trinity ended the ART sextet. A 10-minute play about three criminals who want to become super-villains, the play explores friendship and ambition, suggesting that both are doomed to failure. The play had elements that provoked thought but would have benefited from more development. There are three major scenes and each of them seemed too short to merit the emotional significance attached to them by the dialogue. The friendship test isn’t successfully realised as momentous because the close friendship we hear the characters profess has not been exhibited. Whether this is a problem of direction or just that the play could do with being longer is a question that deserves attention, for there are seeds of potential interest here. A little more care and nourishment may bring them to fruit.

Almost Random Theatre is random. The plays range in quality and success, but all of them are innovative and energetic, and the joy the company takes in performing them is manifestly evident. Each of these plays is brand new and it’s marvellous to see a theatre company so open to fresh talent and creativity. Even better is that, for all the ‘everyone’s got a shot’ ethos, quality doesn’t suffer and all of the playwrights, with all of their actors, deserve thorough applause. Most of all though, ART is to be celebrated. This is an initiative that will continue to gather strength.