The Open House
Print Room at The Coronet
Reviewed – 25th January 2018
“cutting remarks are constantly crossing the line between sarcastic quips and genuine cruelty”
Will Eno’s play may be titled ‘The Open House’ but as soon as the lights go up it feels like anything but. The tense atmosphere where every question feels like a landmine is recognisable to anyone who’s ever suffered through a family gathering. “Why are we like this?” asks the nameless daughter repeatedly, but there is no dramatic revelation of a family secret to answer this question. Rather than build to a moment of explanation for their strained relationships, as so many family dramas do, this family slowly fades away as each member departs.
After each character finds an excuse to leave the stage the actors return in an entirely new guise. Lindsey Campbell does a fantastic job of switching from the nervous daughter to the slightly too comfortable estate agent who breezes in and takes control of the scene immediately. Though Crispin Letts’ two characters feel less distinct than the rest of the cast he comes across as incredibly warm and likeable throughout.
Greg Hicks is terrific to watch as the bitter patriarch of this fractured family. His cutting remarks are constantly crossing the line between sarcastic quips and genuine cruelty, the audience is laughing one moment and gasping the next. His physical frailty (we learn he has suffered a stroke) becomes more obvious as each of his own family members is replaced by these newcomers. No longer is he surrounded by people used to submitting to his bullying nature, and thus he loses any sense of strength he may have felt.
The reflection of this new and more ‘open’ atmosphere is reflected cleverly within the set (Tom Piper). As the estate agent hurries around rearranging everything, the family’s neutral suburban living room goes from stiff and unwelcoming to comfortable and inviting. A piece of wallpaper is stripped to reveal the bright pattern suffocated beneath all the beige and the blanket resting on the father’s wheelchair-bound knee is thrown over the sofa for a splash of colour.
As each actor returns as a new character the title takes on new meanings. These strangers are here to discuss the sale of the house, but their friendly and open natures also drain the toxic atmosphere that the first half has built up. Though most of these people have just met they treat each other with more kindness than any of the family members had done.
The ending was slightly confusing, and I struggled to understand what message Eno was trying to convey. Replacing each character with a more positive, vibrant version of themselves was a great theatrical device but having no conclusion for the family members we had begun with made me feel rather frustrated.
Eno has done well to provide a new take on such an established genre, and ‘The Open House’ is worth seeing just to witness the cast portray wildly different characters.
Reviewed by Ella McCarron
Photography by Simon Annand
The Open House
Print Room at The Coronet until 17th February