The Space, London – until 12 October 2019
Last night I went to The Space for the first time. I flag that this was my first time to the venue, because this is review is unfortunately based on a not fully complete viewing of the show. Due to the sociopathic geniuses behind the bus stops at Canary Wharf, I took an unplanned detour via Limehouse. I contacted the theatre to let them know I wasn’t going to make it in time, so was planning the long journey back to SW London, feeling cross with myself and defeated by the 277 bus. However, they were keen for me to come anyway, and the lovely Leanne (I hope I’ve spelt that correctly) at The Space, safely got me to my seat after the show had begun. Going above and beyond the call of duty, she also sat and talked me through the beginning scenes I had missed. I am very grateful to Leanne. All theatres should have a Leanne.
Despite having missed the beginning, I was quickly drawn into the action and immediately understood the premise of the show (plus I had a chance to re-read the press release on my bus detour, which helped get me in the zone). The Open gives a comic dystopian view of a future Britain. A Britain that has been privatised and turned into the Great British Golf Course. It touches on a lot of very interesting themes including the treatment of immigrants, national identity (particularly when a Nation is now a private enterprise), a new form of class system, the perils of social media for those in power and legality vs morality. Above all this is essentially a play about friendship and whether relationships can survive divisive times.
Despite these weighty themes, The Open has a light-hearted comedic feel to it, particularly in the first act. Things get significantly darker, and as a result more interesting, after the interval, when the action really ramps up. While the production could be more polished, and there is scope within Florence Bell’s writing to land the themes in a more gripping and emotionally impactful way, this was an enjoyable night at the theatre. In no small part because of the energy and talent of the cast.
Priyank Morjaria is very convincing as jobsworth Arthur. Someone who loves to stick to the rules and do his job to the best of his ability. The perfect person to have in a dystopian society that relies on compliance. His is a brilliant performance in a challenging role, as it really is hard to warm to Arthur. His blind obedience and refusal to believe what he calls “conspiracy theories” is frustrating and depressingly resonant.
Heidi Niemi’s Jana is the direct opposite of Arthur. She has all too clear a vision of what is happening, and she is not afraid to share her fears, despite the dangers of speaking up. She plays the role with a great energy and fierceness, making her determination to escape the GBGC with Patrick all the more convincing.
Tom Blake is a wonderfully naive and mild mannered Patrick. Capturing the essence of this free-spirited young man, oblivious to the cage he is living in. While Emma Austin gives us an enjoyable villain in the entitled Bella, who singularly lacks any form of compassion. As the key antagonist of the play it would have been nice to have more of her character development in the 2nd act, although I can’t say why I felt she was a bit under-cooked without giving key plot elements away.
This is a play packed full of interesting ideas, and while a more focused approach would have allowed Florence Bell to explore them in more satisfying depth, she has nonetheless created an entertaining and original piece of theatre.
The Open runs at The Space until 12th October.