The high standard of Oxford student productions raises expectations of fledgling theatre companies to a level that may appear unrealistic to those outside the bubble, but the reality of such an endeavour can involve risks, difficulties, and inevitable mistakes. Unfortunately, Dark Days, the opening collection of sketches in Almost Random Theatre’s (est. May 2012) three-night run painfully demonstrated such setbacks, despite appearing at first sight to offer an impressive medley of talented, experienced actors and writers.
There were instances of compelling, thought-provoking writing, as well as examples of enjoyable and intelligent acting – the problem was that these two vital ingredients of good theatre largely failed to coincide. The interesting scripts were poorly rendered, while the engaging actors were wasted on dull writing. For example, the first sketch, The Intricate Workings of a Sherbet Lemon, was impossible to enjoy due to Kyran Pritchard’s I’m-doing-my-acting-voice, while Steve Walker’s poignant and convincing performance in Confessions of an Addict was incongruous with the bad jokes included in his speech about why he’d joined Readers Anonymous. This lacklustre combination resulted in an evening which failed to make an impression; no sketch was totally catastrophic but none was particularly entertaining.
The closest any piece got to contradicting that verdict was Wolf, written and performed by Gwilym Scourfield. It greatly exceeded expectations because the concept, an account of the story of Little Red Riding Hood from the perspective of the baddie, has been set as creative writing homework for Key Stage Three students throughout the country. I was therefore preparing for something tired and littered with clichés, but was pleasantly surprised by Scourfield’s lively, amusing monologue. He managed to weave contemporary references and clever puns together with appeals to age-old truths and stereotypes while remaining unexpectedly original. His acting was skilful, but was tragically let down by the fact that the whole monologue was read off a script, a factor which frustratingly ruined what was easily the best piece of the evening.
Perhaps this gaping flaw can be seen to represent what was wrong with the evening as a whole, in terms of a lack of thoroughness, which would have enhanced the whole theatrical presentation. For if the better actors were working with the better-written pieces (and the remainder done away with), and if the awkward musical interruptions and atrociously staged slap were edited out, the performances could have been impressive.
Overall, this young theatre company displayed some promise on which it should have capitalised much more. The company is clearly still attempting to forge an identity, and one way in which they would be well advised to progress in this respect would be to abandon completely their jarring ‘improvised comedy’ attempts and focus solely on drama. With time the company will hopefully improve drastically on what it currently has to offer, which the audience tangibly found underwhelming.