Here we have a squabbling couple, going through marital difficulties. The premise for Dario Fo’s The Open Couple may seem fairly typical for a play, but the solution in this case is somewhat different.
Alan Ayckbourn, this is not. Matter-of-fact funny, Rebecca Crankshaw and Pete Picton are in a constant battle of melodrama – Crankshaw decides to kill herself by overdosing on Skittles (they resemble pills), shoot herself with a hairdryer (it resembles a gun), and jump to her death standing on a chair (it resembles a window). Picton is having several affairs, a midlife crisis without needing any blue pills to bolster his libido. The solution, an open marriage that ends up giving Crankshaw her confidence back and reducing Picton to the snivelling worm he is.
Alex Prescot directs Dario Fo’s The Open Couple as part of the Stomping Ground Festival, a Young Director’s training programme set up by StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Prescot immediately picks up and runs with the play-within-a-play scenario – everything the actors do on stage is for show, the Crankshaw show where she plays orator and decides the narrative. It’s the most public of counselling sessions. As such, both actors ham up for the audience, use typical household props in multiple scenarios, and even bring members into their drama. It’s a performance for the world, the sham of their marriage on display for all to gawk at. Crankshaw and Picton and both exceptionally adept at overacting, and Prescot brings more and more out of them as the show progresses.
Despite the outlandish scenario, The Open Couple feels comfortable and homely. Self-deprecating and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Crankshaw is the mastermind to putting all at ease while simultaneously behaving more and more outrageously. The rehearsal process has paid off here – Crankshaw and Prescot exhibit a wonderful anti-chemistry on stage that is endearing and believable. This is a couple with the same desires and same problems as many others, the fact that they are middle-aged doesn’t factor into the equation. Picton is a reactionary character, thinking with his penis the whole time. Manipulative and spiteful, just like Crankshaw, he is nevertheless hated because he engineered the situation to begin with.
The Open Couple has a moment when it starts to lose its draw – once the façade is dropped and hints of a more serious undertone start creeping through the script, the mood turns but feels incomplete. However, Prescot has capitalised on the affability of Fo’s characters, casting well and realising a clever, witty and enjoyable stage performance.
The Open Couple played The Albany as part of Stomping Ground Festival on 17 March.