Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Open House

Will Eno
Theatre Royal Bath, Print Room at the Coronet
Print Room at the Coronet

Greg Hicks, Crispin Letts, Lindsey Campbell and Ralph Davis Credit: Simon Annand
Greg Hicks and Teresa Banham Credit: Simon-Annand.
Lindsey Campbell Credit: Simon-Annand.

Will Eno’s The Open House may initially strike you as a television pilot soap about a dysfunctional family.

Five gloomy people mostly sit in a bleak living room on the day of Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary. The visiting son (Ralph Davis) and daughter (Lindsey Campbell) look tired and bored. The mother (Teresa Banham) looks resentful and the uncle (Crispin Letts) just seems distracted.

Dad (Greg Hicks) dominates the conversation and mood with cruel, insensitive comments to everyone else in the room.

He insults his wife, mocks the uncle and even when he asks his son a question can’t be bothered to hear the answer. The mother gives us an idea of how far back this behaviour may go when she tells her children that, “your father loved you when you were little... It was only when you started to talk...”

None of them is given a name. All are known simply by their family role.

Not surprisingly, each character finds a reason to leave the house: the daughter for food, the uncle for Dad’s medicine, the son to meet a friend and the mother to visit a hospital.

In turn, they are replaced by the same actors playing happy good-natured people from an estate agent to potential buyers who are responding to Dad’s decision to sell the house. In the process, Dad is the only remaining member of the original family and he is sidelined and then exits.

Their replacements wear bright clothes, are playful and each has a name. Melissa and Bron own a restaurant, Melissa’s brother Charlie is a lawyer, Tom is a painter and Anna is an estate agent.

Curtains are opened, wallpaper pulled off the walls and everything seems to get brighter.

Was this play a metaphor for the current fad among the rich to make vast sums of money from clearing the poor from the cities and replacing them with luxury dwellers? Probably not.

A gloomy, depressed family with no names has swiftly been replaced by a bustling, happy bunch. It’s a small joke that doesn’t tell us anything about fractious families, the state of the theatre or even the state of the nation.

Dad’s early barbs levelled against his family are amusing and the well directed show is entertaining, but there is no plausible plot or character development. It is all simply a bit of harmless fun.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna