“As topical and in vogue the offbeat concept is, the final execution does not live up to what it promises”
Anyone for a game of golf? Well get your clubs out and tee up, as there’s a new course in town, and it’s unlike any other seen before. The Open explores the ramifications of our near-distant future in an absurd yet unnervingly plausible fashion, but lacks an inventive story to follow the strong concept.
The year is 2050. It’s post-Brexit and Great Britain looks a little different to how we know it. Now called the GBGC (Great British Golf Course), our beloved country has been bought and taken over by the one and only Donald Trump, and turned into a mass of putting holes. It’s a bleak landscape. Protagonists Arthur (Priyank Morjaria) and Patrick (Tom Blake) are stuck in this dystopian world, despondently going about their monotonous work on the course. Arthur more diligently does what he is told, whilst Patrick yearns for the past and to see his love Jana (Heidi Niemi) again. Her unexpected return causes havoc, and with not much time to spare, gives these two men an ultimatum that will change their lives.
As topical and in vogue the offbeat concept is, the final execution does not live up to what it promises. With so much exposition to have to get across, most scenes fall flat as they become discussion based with little action ever taking place. The second half does certainly pick up pace, but writer and director Florence Bell could have created more dynamic scenarios to portray instead. At times you’re left questioning small but niggling plot holes, such as, what’s happening to the UK residents who aren’t working for the golf course? There’s also the bizarre choice of never mentioning Donald Trump, even though he is the sole reason Britain has turned into a vast manicured turf for the rich. Possibly it’s a directorial choice to only elude to him, but it simply does not work.
There is however some undoubtedly worthy attempts from Bell at examining the disparity between the rich and poor, imagining a future where the gap has become even wider. Where the UK are still reliant on people from overseas to do our low-paid jobs, and the xenophobia from Trump and Brexit’s rhetoric has exploded into awful action.
The cast try their best with putting life into the lacklustre script. In particular, Morjaria as Arthur gives a standout performance that feels truthful, with clear character progression, where others can come across one-dimensional or without real motivations.
The set design by Tom Craig is a pleasing sight. The simple but ever so effective use of green Astro turf along the whole stage immediately transports you to the artificial, Disneyland-esque perfection that the GBGC is trying to sell. The stark contrast of the stage for the second half is a nice visual indication of the murkier business that goes on underneath the corporations facade.
All in all, the whole concept just feels too big to fit into its 105 minutes running time. What strives to be an inventive new take on the dystopian-thriller genre, made popular by the likes of Black Mirror, turns out to be mostly predictable and not enthralling enough. Just like golf really.
“powerful lines and relatable images will remain with the audience as they leave the theatre”
Tom Kelsey performs his own one-man show on home turf, at the RADA Theatre in central London, where he trained. In spite of the intensely personal nature of this piece, Tom relaxes into the monologue. His openness makes for both an endearing and frightening performance. The audience is taken on a journey through an average day which spins out of control as Tom uncharacteristically accepts a friend’s offer to join on a night out.
The missing piece of the puzzle is the confession he opens with: Tom suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. The play portrays his suffering through a simple but powerful animal metaphor. The events of the night lead to the panic under his skin to surface once more, manifesting in complete tiger metamorphosis.
A long dark, wooden table at the back of the room makes up the set which acts, at different points, as park bench, tube and skyscraper. A raw and compelling performance renders every new scene completely believable.
Impressive execution of sound and lighting (Julian Starr and Simisola Majekodunmi), allows for an immersive experience. Tom is perfectly on cue, miming or reacting to the noises invading his world: doors opening, phones ringing and dogs barking. Tom’s larger than life movements, directed by Gabrielle Moleta, swiping through the air to answer his phone, for instance, ironically render this world more realistic and the audience becomes ever more involved.
The lighting emits bold colours, framing specific scenes to provide structure. The stark colours invoke emotive responses: light blue streams onto the “tube”, a tranquilising calm before the storm; red flashes indicate the onset of panic; deep purple offers pathos when dark thoughts threaten to override his joy; an electric orange heralds the terror of the transformation.
The standard of Tom’s acting is high, carrying the play forward on his own. He adopts multiple roles to convey his mother and friend Dave, breaking up the lengthy monologue and injecting the performance with some light humour.
As sounds reverberate through the room and Tom welcomes us in, directing his gaze straight into the huddle of bodies below, there is an unnerving sense that we are not only in Tom’s world, but in Tom’s head. His gestures are over the top and inviting: every word he utters is extended through action. This is a beautiful exposition of the need for control over every aspect of life, conveying the obsessive nature of his illness. By the end, however, this is replaced by the frightening movements of the tiger released from inside him. However, it is in human form, rather than as a tiger, that Tom conveys the most debilitating qualities of his daily plight. The final scenes of the play are more confusing and jump between places without transition or clear explanation. Although this succeeds in conveying the tumult inside his head, it leaves the audience a little adrift.
Although spectacular make-up transforms Tom, the stripy orange tiger is less impressive than the honest and creative ways Tom finds to convey his mental health in the first half of the play. The powerful lines and relatable images will remain with the audience as they leave the theatre.