THE OPEN HOUSE at the Ustinov Studio, Bath

All the ingredients look tasty enough; a talented cast, a director with all the experience one could want and an award-winning playwright.  The designer too has a list of credits as long as your arm.  And yet …

Go to an open house viewing of a property and the scene will have been set for prospective buyers to project their own perfect lifestyle into the rooms.  What might be going on behind closed doors is another matter. The present occupants could be deliriously happy or, as in Will Eno’s vision, a dysfunctional lot presided over by a misery-guts of a Father who spends his time either reading a newspaper and studiously ignoring his wife, brother and offspring or dishing out unprovoked verbal jabs. “I raised a bunch of poor people’, he moans, when it looks like they may have gathered to stake a claim in a dying man’s affections. Father, you see, is in a wheelchair, post stroke.

To be sure, Greg Hicks does a grand job with this grade one grump.  There is something peculiarly spiteful about a frail piece of humanity dishing out their spleen; something to do perhaps with the convention of not striking back at the apparently vulnerable. He recounts how the day he met their mother he saw this beautiful woman who then disappeared into the crown, ‘And then I saw your mother.’ At this point the burning question was, why on earth is she still with him?

The writer being from across the pond, the cast have put on their best American accents.  However, we have our own supply of cantankerous old gits, thank you, so this one being an American didn’t seem to matter in the least and apart from a few ‘ants’ instead of ‘aunts’ the setting could have been any suburb in the UK.

There was an air of tentativeness about some of the exchanges with no sense that this was a family who had been either ground down to acceptance of Father’s behaviour over the years or, alternatively, surprised at a change in his personality. The atmosphere was strangely English, but in a, ‘let’s try and be nice to the horribly strange new neighbours’, sort of way.

Things perk up a little as characters exit on some pretext only to return as someone different – potential purchasers having a viewing, a decorator and estate agent. Father eventually (predictably by this time) goes out to return as a lawyer swaggering about in a solicitor-ish sort of way.  Teresa Banham (Mother) swaps being a doormat for someone with a visible spine and some kind of twist or revelation seemed to be in the offing. Sadly no yeast was applied to the ingredients and despite a few moments of breezy turnabout, the mixture failed to rise.   ★★★☆☆   Graham Wyles   29th November 2017