The Space, London – until 12 October 2019
2050. Brexit is (finally) done. The environment is (predictably) a mess. And Britain’s been sold and turned into a giant golf course owned and run by “The Organisation” – a.k.a. Donald Trump, who at 100 years old may or may not still be alive, and who’s taken on such God/Voldemort-like status that nobody even says his name out loud any more. The Great British Golf Course promises citizens, or at least the ones born in Britain, the opportunity to “live, work, thrive” – but three friends are about to discover what really goes on behind closed doors…
As with any dystopian drama, the central idea of Florence Bell’s The Open – the GBGC itself – sounds far-fetched, but the foundations on which it’s built aren’t all that implausible: a future in which money continues to be the source of power, social status is dictated purely by nationality, and any resistance is dismissed as “fake news” or simply made to disappear.
Arthur (Priyank Morjaria) has bought into the dream 100%, particularly after bumping into one of the GBGC’s chief architects, Bella (Emma Austin). Such is his devotion to his employer that he’s even willing to consider betraying his closest friends, Estonian immigrant Jana (Heidi Niemi) and her boyfriend Patrick (Tom Blake), when they dare to question everything he thinks he knows.
Through the play’s four characters, we meet the full range of people who make up the GBGC community – and they’re all recognisable figures to a 2019 audience.Austin’s Bella is self-involved, manipulative and absolutely lacking in remorse. At the other end of the scale, Niemi steps into the role of hero as straight-talking Jana, who’s willing to risk everything in defence of what’s right. She’s come back for Blake’s innocent, almost childlike Patrick, who has his doubts – and certainly shows little loyalty to The Organisation – but would quite cheerfully continue to do and say nothing without his girlfriend there to push him into action. And then there’s Morjaria as Arthur, the embodiment of a good man turned bad by a combination of fear, promises and false information.
It’s a clever and intriguing premise, and executed well by a strong cast, so it’s surprising that The Open never completely takes flight; the ingredients are all there, but the play as a whole lacks balance. A complicated plot and back story mean that Act 1 has to spend a lot of time explaining how we got here, often through slightly circular conversations between the characters. The pace of the show starts to lag as a result, and even then it feels like there’s a lot we still haven’t quite pieced together. All the action then happens rather suddenly in Act 2, which feels rushed by comparison and, oddly, raises more laughs than Act 1, even though it’s only after the interval that the true horror of the GBGC is revealed.
Looking at the current state of the world, it’s not hard to imagine a situation like the one in The Open – the play essentially takes characters and attitudes that already exist and puts them into an extreme scenario to see what they’ll do. This has the potential to work really well, but the pace and structure of the unfolding drama needs some work in order for the play to fully capture the audience’s imagination.
The Open is at The Space until 12th October.