Amid increasing fears for the future of the United Kingdom, especially those dictated by the consequences of Brexit, theatremaker Florence Bell imagines a slow-burning decline that reaches the furthest depths in 2050. Her dystopic vision sees the country transformed into the Great British Golf Course, in which nationals are employed as caddie drivers, whereas the foreigners are relegated to hospitality – something so demeaning that only EU citizens can do.
Instead of being given to the employees, wages are paid directly into a government-controlled loyalty scheme, which is advertised as promoting the community’s welfare. In reality, without an actual income, no one is able to change jobs or make alternative life plans.
Leaving the country has become illegal, as in the case of Estonian catering employee Jana (Heidi Niemi), whose attempt to reach the coast and head back to her native land is considered a breach of contract. Together with her boyfriend Patrick (Tom Blake), she’s handed over to the authorities by their turncoat friend Arthur (Priyank Morjaria) and their defection receives a disproportioned punishment.
Brainwashed from an early age, Arthur unconditionally praises the system and admires his leaders. Above everyone else, he worships his flippant manager Bella (Emma Austin), ready to satisfy any of her ruthless requests in the hopes of impressing her and so climb the hierarchy.
Lengthy and weighted down by one too many inconsequential dialogues, the drama slowly unravels, spiralling down to a total collapse of the system. Eventually, the disregard for basic human rights is so overt that even Arthur is compelled to question the establishment and its protocol.
Commendable performances – in particular those of Morjaria and Austin – are hindered by a script in need of a brutal excision. With its two-hour running time (with interval), Bell’s intriguing germinal idea succumbs to the temptation of too many subsidiary scenes, where the audience’s insight could have easily filled the gaps. One example amongst many is a flashback of the three friends enjoying a campfire in Brighton where, young and carefree, they discuss the regime as something far on the horizon, oblivious to the impending doom. An episode that had already been sufficiently mentioned in a previous exchange.
Tom Craig’s refreshing design serves well to the setting of the numerous scenes. The green of the first act gradually sheds its brightness, as Simisola Majekodunmi dims the lights until the whole auditorium is plunged into darkness.
Clearly a labour of love, The Open offers more than one glimpse of genius but ultimately fails to deliver the grip of the thriller it was intended to be.
Written, Directed and Produced by: Florence Bell
Box Office: 020 7515 7799
Booking Link: https://space.org.uk/event/the-open/
Booking Until: 12 October 2019