This section of the site lists the various reviews for performances by ART. Unusually – but then what do we do that is usual? – we include negative reviews as well. This is a reminder to us that we can always improve – but also shows (we hope!) how our performances have improved over the years. We show or link to the full review rather than just select juicy quotations. This way all visitors to the site can get a more complete picture of our work. ART has also performed in Poland and the Czech Republic. Rather than have ‘reviews’ we have ‘testimonials’ and these are shown here.
The double bill of plays were refreshing. I have seen School Assembly before and the new written text kept it fresh and made the play flow more. The acting was great and the cast did well. The only criticism I can make that some of the blocking needs re-looking at.
Condemned to Live is a simple story of euthanasia with a family arguing its pros and cons. the pace of the play was perfect with the right level of tension.
Both plays are worth seeing.
Louise, Jess, 05/06/14 For More See
Last night I had the pleasure of going to Oxford to watch two plays by Almost Random Theatre, entitled School Assembly and Condemned to Live. The latter was written by the award-winning Heather Dunmore and directed by Miriam Higgins. School Assembly was written and directed by Chris Sivewright.
Condemned to Live concerns whether or not Eve is willing/able to ‘assist’ her husband, who has motor neurone disease, in committing suicide. The play centres round the discussions she has with her family Kate (Chloe Orris) and Jack (David Gurney).
There are some who see theatre merely as entertainment. ‘A play should make you laugh, elevate the mood etc.’ Yes, some plays do that – but others make you think and the really good ones (such as Condemned to Live) draw you in to share the experiences being portrayed on stage. Condemned was the second play in this this 2-for-1 evening and I left feeling as if I too had to make a decision about assisted suicide – and that to me, is the sign of an excellent play.
David Gurney, an outstanding actor, also appeared in School Assembly. Therefore he was on stage almost the entire hour and, to me, he was the dominant actor. He plays Ben, sweet, affable, oafish, Ben who spends his time having an affair with other teachers (the willing Amanda, played by Karen Gaynor) or the wife of another teacher, Niles (Marcus Davis-Orram).
Ben’s favourite place for his sexual dallyings is Tesco’s car park (is this blatant product placement?) – no matter if it is raining as (as Amanda says) this just causes the windows to steam up.
Despite the above, School Assembly was really a play about ‘betrayal’ – betrayal of friendship (Niles and Ben) but also the encouragement of betrayal by Niles’s wife. Betrayal was also the theme of the school assembly Ben was planning – hence the title of the play, written by ex-teacher, Chris Sivewright.
Both plays make you think: the first about the potential harm someone experienced in IT and social media can do to you, the second about choices we may make over life – and death. Not entertainment in the ‘fun’ sense but something that by causing us to think and share, something that improves our lives.
Chris Zaremba, 05/06/14 For More See
This Oxford Fringe double-bill showcases two new 30-minute plays by local writers.
School Assembly, written and directed by Chris Sivewright, shows the aftermath of an affair between a teacher and the wife of a colleague as they prepare for the first school assembly of a new half-term. The theme of both play and titular assembly is betrayal, but the play is really about the potential destructive power of rumour and insinuation, particularly in a world of social networking and media scare stories. The cuckolded husband takes it upon himself to enact revenge on his philandering colleague by systematically destroying his career with merely a few well-placed emails and Facebook posts. While the play is thought-provoking, the production feels a little under-rehearsed, and some members of the cast are far too quiet, even in the intimate setting of the Old Fire Station.
Condemned to Live, written by Heather Dunmore and directed by Miriam Higgins, is the stronger of the two pieces, as a family comes to terms with a court’s refusal to let a man with motor neurone disease end his life. The man’s wife, driven to despair, wants to ‘help’ her husband, while her son is desperate to keep his father alive and his mother out of prison. Her rebellious teenage daughter, who never knew her father before his illness, is torn between wanting a ‘normal’ life and the possibility of losing both mother and father at one stroke. The play is simply staged, director and cast making good use of set and props to create a believable domestic situation. Dunmore presents both sides of the argument for euthanasia without preaching or proselytising, leaving the audience sympathetic to every member of the family.
Theatregoer, 06/06/14 For More See
I am not a frequent visitor to Fringe plays – neither Oxford nor anywhere else. My perception was that such plays that did appear would be student written/acted, rather esoteric, slightly amateurish and rather hastily put together.
I could not have been more wrong. On Wednesday I took advantage of a ‘2-for-1′ offer and saw two plays: School Assembly (Chris Sivewright) and Condemned to Live (Heather Dunmore). The two plays – both very serious – exhibit two totally different writing styles. School Assembly is fast, contemporary (the whiteboard behind had a dig at Michael Gove’s demonising of To Kill a Mockingbird which was only announced this week). It’s littered with Spanish cultural references, references a real-life suicide note, adapts an Enya song by tweaking the words and takes a swipe at the Liberals. The characters have a little depth but only as teachers rather than as people. Whilst Veronica Ortiz (Sally) brought a touch of humour (perhaps unintentionally), the subjects of betrayal and then revenge were deadly serious.
Condemned to Live was altogether slower with the characters having greater depth. More expressions, nuances, interplay – and pauses. I get the feeling that if Sivewright had written Condemned and Dunmore, School, then the former play would be littered with assisted suicide statistics, chemical options and ‘ten ways to kill your lover’ whilst the latter would have a reduced cast of just three: the Head, Ben and Niles.
In terms of the actors, it was clear that Condemned (with the exception of David Gurney who was in both plays) had the better group. Word (and action) perfect, no pauses and one could feel they were really ‘living’ their lines. With School, less so. In some cases, dialogue delivery was too fast and/or too quiet.
Nonetheless, two plays well worth seeing.
Another Fringe; two more performances of plays that vary in quality. Such is so often the case with productions by Almost Random Theatre.
The latest offering is two plays: School Assembly and secondly, Condemned to Live.
School Assembly has as a theme betrayal, and covers such topics as charitable activities (Macmillan), teacher burn-out, suicide notes, paedophilia, internet threats and, for light relief, sex in a Tesco carpark. The acting was patchy: David Gurney and Marcus David-Orrom (Ben and Niles) were excellent. The others less so although there was promise in the performance of Ortiz (Sally). Spanish actress; Spanish teacher. It worked well.
The second play was Condemned to Live by Heather Dunmore. Serious, ponderous at times. The acting dripped credibility and tension. Silences were poignant, pauses added weight to the surrounding words.
This was good stuff. The topic – assisted suicide – is one that was covered in Coronation Street not that long ago – and to wide acclaim. This play, this writing and direction deserves no less praise.
Which play is better? It’s apples and oranges. Condemned was better acted and written but, to this reviewer, School Assembly was more enjoyable. It had a light-hearted side littered with sly digs and nudges (“leave your phone on…vibrate”) whilst tackling a serious topic – online reputation in a hyperconnected world. In Condemned, on the other hand, there was a greater fluency and a better build up of tension.
Both plays, individually, were worth the entrance fee. Together, in supermarket-style, you have a bargain particularly at such a great venue.
michael.sandford.900, 06/06/14 For More See
Chris Sivewright keeps his scripts up to date, and this one had been rewritten and, I think, improved since its first performance in January: the themes seemed more tightly knit together, and it was just bad luck if the up-to-the-minute message on the staffroom whiteboard threatened to steal the show before the actors even came in. But Marcus Davis-Orram’s stiff-backed and poker-throated asides from Niles’s end of the table played off well against David Gurney’s, er, cockiness – the body language under Ben’s end of the table was enough to reduce any victim of PUA to flashbacks, which at least for an actor, and in a role like this one, has to be a compliment.
Given Niles’s well-advised choice of disembodied cyberspace to stage his revenge, his move into physical violence – which at the performance I saw unfortunately proved considerably less physical than the previous visual contrast of presences from opposite sides of the stage – appeared superfluous as well as out of character, and might have been omitted to everyone’s advantage. Nerds don’t need to confront jocks with their own weapons these days, and insofar as this is the play’s point it might as well get all the emphasis possible. Room for yet another revision, perhaps?
This is an interesting play, and in these shifting times it’s certainly no disadvantage to feel like a work-in-progress – a genre that live theatre naturally does better than television, too, so one worth developing. Heather Dunmore’s play, which followed, covered so many aspects of its theme as to finish feeling comprehensive and yet open-ended as well; another family gathering round the dining-table on another day might just take the argument the other way. The characters’ several points of view were adroitly chosen and tautly illustrated, and emerged from their individual circumstances to present a rounded, or squared, discussion. All the actors (not to mention the author) can be commended on not only drawing their own characters effectively but also, between them, evoking the unseen presence in the next room, so that we cared what happened to him. If I had a quibble it was that Kate got ready for bed to the extent of pyjamas, slippers and dressing-gown, but without removing her enormous earrings – which were surely not ‘sleepers’ in any sense!
In both plays an unseen character was central to a literally tabled debate – one a confrontation between media, the other purely words, but both related to character; and both debates presented, to paraphrase the Shakespearean Henry IV, the oldest struggles in the newest kind of ways. Universal and topical at once, then: a well balanced double bill, of plays whose futures in the world I’ll follow with interest.
loneandlorn, 13/06/14 For More See
Last weekend I had a pleasure to see two plays, School Assembly and Condemned to Live at the Old Fire Station, Oxford. I liked the way how both plays have been casted. In the first play, School Assembly, I liked two main characters who were friends and one of them betrayed another. Each of them perfectly represented their characters in all ways: appearance, temper and life decisions. The stronger character (who betrayed) was opportunistic by appearance – manipulative and decisive. On other hand, the weaker character (who was betrayed) looked soft, scrupulous and indecisive.
In the second play, I liked Mum, she was perfect. Her character clearly represented the ‘single’ mum who had to take care of everything, due to her husband’s illness. She looked strong outside, but soft and indecisive deep inside.
The plot of both plays clearly represented a betrayal theme. However, from my point of view, the two plays have shown different degrees of betrayal. In the first play, School Assembly, betrayal happens among two friends whose friendship lasted only couple months. In that situation, the betrayal resulted in a complete destruction of trust and relationship. In addition, the betrayal created more immoral actions such as revenge, blackmailing and malice.
While in the second play, Condemned to Live, betrayal was something that could be a relief for everybody. Such betrayal could result in a better life for everybody: mum would feel loved, the daughter would have received attention from her parents, and the son could possibly receive proper ‘man’ advice. I think the husband understands this, and as a man it would be very hurtful to see how the loved one suffers, and he is incapable to change that.
Anyway, both plays were fantastic. The only thing I would criticise is music. I think it would be better to use music without lyrics and avoid popular music (too overused in plays) as it brings different associations which are completely irrelevant to the particular play.
Sam CAMBRIGA, 09/06/14 For More See
I attended two plays at Almost Random Theatre, Oxford, yesterday. Good plot, acting and dialogue.
School Assembly is about betrayal. I liked the intensity between the two teachers, and the actors delivered well. I thought very ironic the talk about betrayal from someone who had been betraying in different relationships. The core idea is simple yet impactful.
Condemned to Live has a good plot. The scenario is indeed a controversial one. It would be better if the internal struggle with the mother was more expressive, or deeper. I can’t echo the pain from the mother (or not enough). The discussion about god was interesting.
Overall, it’s a good experience and I would recommend to others, should there be any new plays from this theatre.
Kelvin C. , 08/06/14 For More See
This afternoon I went to see the ART double-bill: School Assembly and Condemned to Live. The second play is by an established playwright – Heather Dunmore – so I was reasonably assured of a good one hour of plays. I was not disappointed.
School Assembly is fast. It is controversial. It is critical (of the Lib Dems). It is cultural (Spanish literature). It is basic. (Vibrating phones in Tesco car park). It is also very interesting – a huge improvement on the same play in January 2014. Acting, too, had improved – especially the actress playing Amanda (not enough programmes to identify her!) and the wonderful actor playing Ben and then Jack in the second play.
Pronunciation and audibility were excellent and the ‘fight scene’ between Ben and Niles was extremely realistic – except for the punch, but hey, it’s fringe theatre, so we accept that! Edwina (Headmistress) was strangely reminiscent of a Head I know (I am a teacher in Oxford) so, at least for me, very believable. All in all, an excellent play and very well performed -and it will get better as there were slight halts in the fluency.
Condemned to Live: Deep. Intense. Pauses. Expressions. This was acting at its finest.
Did I believe the plays? Yes – for both of them. The language in both cases was authentic. If I was to offer any (constructive) criticism it would really be about the peripheral factors. There should always be enough programmes for everyone. Play changeovers were slow – and why not have an announcer/MC saying there will now be a five minute break? Why have no-one introducing or closing the show? Where were the writers? The Directors? Theatre is NOT about putting on a play and then having some of the key players missing out on the applause. I have been to ART performances before and they make a big thing about thanking everyone, involving everyone. So, why the change?
Critic of Theatre, 07/06/14 For More See
Reviews – 2013/14
“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………….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…Next up was Lisa Nicoll’s Poedrunk, 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.,,,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.,,,,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…….. 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.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….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….”
“‘Transformations’ was for me, about rather more than just the fact that old people are different from young people. In addition to that, I think it portrayed the confusion in health and fitness advice that exists these days……..I found ‘Kind’ to be gripping, and hoped for more encounters between the characters during the play, and not wanting to reach the end. The outcome was guess-able from about half-way through, but that it was concealed that far is a tribute to the writing….”
“Transformation: The first play of the evening showed us a grandfather being involuntarily enlisted to help his granddaughter with an academic project on well being. However this is not enough for his granddaughter as she also uses the time to try and fundamentally change the grandfathers outlook on life. Chris Sivewrights script brims with wry observation, wit and satire, often to very comic effect…….Overall though, Transformation is a very sweet and very safe comedy about the differences between young and old, with plenty of touching and funny moments. The highlight of the evening……Jonathan Skinners script shows plenty of potential with some nice exchanges between the characters,…”
“Almost Random Theatre – ART as it likes to be called – is Oxford based but those taking part are likely to come from anywhere on the face of the earth. Formed less than two years ago by the highly talented Chris Sivewright, it is gaining quite a reputation and attracting actors – both amateur and professional.”
” ….School Assembly isolates a moment of vicious sexual jealousy, in a group of private school teachers planning their first school assembly of the year……………..it experiments fearlessly on the edge of humour, never losing its dark heart. Angela Myers is luminously excellent as the straight-laced and po-faced headmistress, and Paul Barrand spits his angry way through a chilling performance as the wronged man, obsessed with revenge….Ellen Publicover is excellent as a budding New York neurotic, breaking off to address audience in high-speed confessional patter. Victor Ptak, as her psychiatrist, spatters the stage with madcap antics, speaking in a combination of bad puns and cod-German word-salad………Marcus Davis-Orrom (a chilly sight for January) playing a deep South pool boy putting the moves on a reserved Englishwoman on retreat from recent heartbreak; but nothing is as it seems, and Soraya I-Ting’s poised and brittle performance makes the most excellent end to the evening……………”
“Overall I thought the evening was excellent, although the room could do with some ventilation! I will be going again this Saturday as all the plays are new and there is music! And – apparently, don’t shoot me – a trio of exquisite girls singing Stand by Me!”
“First of all, seven short plays have been watched by an audience of average size 25 (not bad for pub fringe, mid-week) and all the plays have been FREE. Therefore it is difficult to value the evening in monetary terms. Although each play was short, the evenings always finished with audience-lead improvisation so the whole evening was probably about 60 minutes each time.”
“On Saturday I went to Port Mahon in St Clements to see the latest plays from Almost Random Theatre. (ART). Five plays seemed ambitious for a Saturday night, but, to my surprise, when the five plays had finished the MC Chris Sivewright announced there were a further five being put on and we could ‘return from the 20 minute break and watch the bonus’. Astonishing! I have never been to a theatre where you get double what was advertised….. ART is fast carving a niche for itself in the short-play market and audiences will continue to rise.”
“Well done to Almost Random Theatre for a good evening’s entertainment.”
“In both plays audience reaction demonstrated a high level of involvement. In the second play, a weird, lone male encounters a woman awaiting a late night train. Kyran Pritchard transmitted the hairs-on-the-neck fearfulness very well. The scary loneliness of the situation made for dramatic ambience that was almost tangible inside the small audience space.”
“The actors are still as on their game as if they were in the Playhouse performing to a sell-out crowd. They are completely professional.”
“I attended Almost Random Theatre’s set of mini plays on Friday 9th August. They were acted out by some fabulous actors, many of whom are professional, while the plays themselves are of a great quality, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but always entertaining.”
“When the plays finished the cast and crew met up with the audience and we sat around in the bar.
No pretensions; just an enjoyable, cheap evening. I will be going again throughout this week as every evening is different.”
“A vibrant and talented group.”