Friday, 25 January 2019

REVIEW: Open at the Vaults Festival


Hidden away down a graffiti filled tunnel minutes away from Waterloo station lies The Vaults, a cracking space for fringe theatre events and fresh pieces of artistry and performance. Within this year’s line-up is Full Disclosure Theatres latest project: Open, a two hander show written and performed by a real-life couple, exploring the tale of two husbands, one hundred lovers and modern day romance. 

I attended their opening night of the production on Wednesday 23rd January, which just so happened to be the debut day of the festival itself, now entering its seventh successful year in Waterloo. Naturally there was an infectious buzz throughout the venue, and everyone was ready to delve into the lives of Christopher Adams and Timothy Allsop. 

Being a gay man myself, I was very intrigued to learn more about a first-hand experience being in a modern day open gay relationship; something that I have personally never come into contact with. And through a mix of verbatim, storytelling and real-life comedy drama, that is exactly what we received. The play began at the couple’s first meeting and continued chronologically throughout their relationship to the current day. They explained when and why they first agreed to go “open”, and invited us into an exploration of their love, jealousy and desire for one another, and the 130+ other men they have encountered along the way. 

While elements of this production had nice ideas, in particular the use of hand crafted paper puppets to represent each male they individually had sexual relations with, on the whole I struggled to understand and appreciate the nature and comedy of the piece. The production felt more along the lines of a documentation of events, as opposed to a piece of theatre. With each of the actors playing themselves as opposed to a character that the audience can relate to and have empathy for, I found it hard to connect with both Christopher and Timothy. While they had clear natural chemistry on stage, and told light hearted personal anecdotes and stories about their relationship, I found sections of the piece somewhat predictable and disjointed. A lot of this came from the idea of having audience members act as the narrators for documents shared between the two, be it private email conversations, or grindr chats. While I see where they were going with this idea, I think they missed the mark and instead of creating a moment of audience interaction and inclusion, created some awkward pauses in pace within the momentum of the story. 

However, credit must be given to the effectiveness of the simplicity of the set design used within the production. The sole use of cardboard boxes honed in on a sense of childishness and innocence which you can imagine the couple feeling upon their first meeting. It also made me relate to my own childhood where I would simply use my imagination to create ANYTHING I wanted to, be it a house, a bed, or a skyscraper, and that’s precisely what director Will Maynard allowed us to do during this piece, revisit and re spark our childhood imaginations. This also presented an idea of the couple first moving in together, unpacking their belongings and memories together. 

On paper, I think this piece sounds extremely inviting and unique due to the brutal honesty and personal details you hope to gain from Adams and Allsops tale. However, I feel that what this production would benefit from is revisiting the drawing board to establish what factors of the production work, and to focus more on the simplicity of things. I would also encourage a further exploration and use of puppetry and voice recordings throughout the production to aid the flow of the story and express heightened feelings of anxiety, jealousy and anguish both Christopher and Timothy must have naturally felt throughout trying moments within their relationship. I would also be interested to perhaps see video documentations or footage be introduced within the production to add visual aids to stories they are describing to the audience. While using our imaginations was charming, visual aids such as photographs, footage or objects would have made their memories much more personal and real to us as audience members. I would also love to see the inclusion of more relatable, or perhaps risky personal stories included within the script, ones that ANY audience member can relate to, in particular those whom are married. 

In spite of this, I believe this production will invoke an entirely different response for each audience member whom sees it, and therefore I invite you to get under the covers yourself, and see just how curious you are to find out more about modern day open homosexual relationships. 

Review by Adam Tipping 

Rating: ★★

Tickets starting from £15 (includes £1.50 booking fee) Use code OPEN10 for a 10% discount on tickets. Book online at vaultfestival.com

Vault Festival running from 23rd January – 17th March throughout Waterloo. See vaultfestival.com for full breakdown of all productions on throughout the festival.

Photo credit Matthew Carnazza
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