The Open at The Space
Though named after the most prestigious and oldest golf tournament in the world, this is not a sports play. It is, as christened by playwright/director Florence Bell, a post-Brexit dystopian thriller. However, while elements of dystopian fiction are blatant in the narrative, the production fundamentally lacks the thriller characteristics that make for an engaging piece of dystopian theatre.
The setting is post-Brexit Britain in 2050, when Trump has purchased Britain and converted it into a private golf course on which political dignitaries are entertained, with citizens helping to run it. What seemed like a “great opportunity” has clearly soured for the three main characters. Estonian Heidi (Heidi Neimi), who works in hospitality, wishes to flee with golf-caddy lover Patrick (Tom Blake), but his colleague Arthur (Priyank Marjaria), a staunch conformist, seems disturbed by his friends’ dissenting desires and chooses to denounce them to the authorities.
That denouncement makes Arthur slightly similar to the undercover O’Brien in 1984. This is not the only link to the famous dystopian text. Concepts like the thought police and state-controlled media are woven into the dialogue, as well as contemporary issues like attitudes to immigration and national identity. They are done so, however, with an unfortunately gauche approach to the core of strong drama: characterisation.
This is most apparent with the male characters of Patrick and Arthur. The roles lack depth, their friendship so absent of a backstory that Blake and Morjaria’s ability to portray them is quite hampered. So much so that when Patrick has a breakdown, the performance feels quite hackneyed and when Arthur has a heated quarrel with Jana, the portrayal feels tame.
Only the feisty, strong-willed character of Jana holds the piece together. Neimi performs the role with such confidence and certainty that she drives all dramatic effect, be it through her comical delivery of Jana’s dry humour or her emotional certitude when her character is most aggrieved.
Staging a dystopian thriller, though, requires the audience to feel an inherent danger within the plot and a powerful empathy with the oppressed situation of the characters. As neither is fully ingrained in the script, the play rarely captivates. In much the same way as the real-life Open tournament.
Photos: Kit Dambite
The Open is at The Space from 24th September until 12th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.