The Open House by Will Eno
Print Room at the Coronet (short walk from Notting Hill Gate tube station) to 17th February
90 minutes, no interval
Veronica Stein, 26th January, 2018.
An absurdist view of the American way.
The dog has gone missing. Almost immediately, ‘Should we start looking for another dog?’ follows.
Such is the modus operandi of the unnamed family at the center of Will Eno’s The Open House. Problems arise and aren’t dealt with, and have been left to resolve themselves for years it seems. The whole family is together: dutiful Mother who “doesn’t do anxiety”, Daughter who has recently moved close to her hometown though nobody seems to remember that she’s nearby, Son who desperately wants his parents to engage in his life, Uncle who’s lonesome though positive after the death of his wife and finds poor company in his relatives, and his wheelchair-bound brother, Father, who spits vitriol at all of his family members without discrimination. Despite the celebration (It’s mom and dad’s anniversary), there is a distinct lack of festivity in the day’s proceedings-until the family members leave, one by one, and the home is invaded by strangers who are eerily reminiscent of the characters we’ve just seen…
Will Eno’s absurdist take on the American family drama is superbly written, from the cleverly bitter barbs spewing from Father’s corner of the room to the genre-bending conventions-or lack thereof- utilized in the play’s latter half. Michael Boyd and the design team have completely integrated their work into the play in a manner that renders discerning between the two highly difficult and it is all for the best: it’s hard to imagine Eno being less than pleased with this production.
Boyd’s staging is detailed and deliberate. Mother and Father rarely touch and Daughter and Son stay stuck on the couch, and despite trying many times to leave, their father’s attitude generally drives them back until they finally escape. More impressively, the physical use of the characters that act as foils to the family upon their arrival is brilliant- while the Uncle could never seem to get comfortable enough to take a seat (and after all, the appropriate space was rarely made for him), his emergence as a prospective buyer for the house takes him anywhere and everywhere. He’s downright comfortable. The house, too, is flipped inside out to mirror the happenings of its occupants. The curtains, possibly for the first time in years, are open.
Teresa Banham’s Mother is wonderfully conflicted between external shows of grace and inward unhappiness, along with being appropriately twisted in reference to the absurdism of the piece. Crispin Letts as Uncle is a breath of fresh air in the family’s stodgy home, and is wonderfully both away with the fairies and suppressed in equal measure. Lindsey Campbell as Daughter is appropriately sensitive in her asking for the family to change in their treatment of one another, and Ralph Davis’s Son is smoldering in his discomfort, along with having a spotless American accent. They truly shine, however, in their later characters, approaching the material with verve and specificity. Greg Hicks as the Father is the standout of the evening, for along with brilliant comic timing as well as a subtle inner pain, watching him see his home filled with strangers is fascinating. He seems to physically wither just as we start to open up to this new cast of characters- is he struggling to come to grips with possibly driving his family away? Or, does he simply not know what his function is with no one to criticize? In a character that would be quite easy to fall into a monochromatic performance, Hicks finds a spectrum.
The Open House is gorgeously rendered at the Coronet. Just as Eno subverts genre, the surreal characters transform this particular American Home. Eno seems to say that change is eternal…and maybe if things are getting a bit unbearable, don’t just leave- peel up the wallpaper.
Mother: Teresa Banham
Father: Greg Hicks
Son: Ralph Davis
Daughter: Lindsey Campbell
Uncle: Crispin Letts
Director: Michael Boyd
Set Designer: Tom Piper
Costume Designer: Madeleine Girling
Lighting Designer: Oliver Fenwick
Sound Designer: Andrea J. Cox
Associate Director: Katherine Nesbitt
Casting Director: Ginny Schiller CDG
Dialect Coach: Daniele Lydon