Written in the early 80’s, by real-life husband-and-wife pairing Dario Fo and Franca Rame, The Open Couple is a farcical study in the consequences of hypocrisy. Beset by the arrival of middle-age, a libidinous husband convinces his wife to embrace an “open” relationship – arguing to her (and perhaps to himself) that it’s an arrangement that benefits both of them. But when the wife takes up her side of the bargain, jealously inevitably sets in. It’s a sharp-witted and sharply-worded script, but its humour’s overlaid on some deeply serious ideas.
Playing the wife, Meg Depla-Lake is a commanding presence on stage. She has an expressive face but, even more noticeably than that, she has expressive hands – with expansive gestures and sing-song tones quickly establishing an interestingly detached persona, calm on the surface but plainly troubled beneath. Nick Moon meanwhile, as the husband, is consigned by the script largely to act as his partner’s foil. But he does deliver a gutsy performance, descending from arrogance to insecurity just as inevitably as his trousers descend to end up round his ankles.
However, there’s a problem. Fo and Rame’s challenging script tackles a lot of themes – including repeated references to suicide – which, if you stop for a moment to think about them, really aren’t funny at all. This production treats them as out-and-out jokes, but to get away with that approach, the energy level needs to be kept constantly high. In this case, the pace dips enough for doubts to creep in, but not enough to admit any poignancy or thoughtfulness.
The pair do make good use of the whole space, often descending from the stage to mingle with the crowd. In fact, I occasionally wished they’d taken their interactions a little further – particularly at the point they cast one unsuspecting audience member as the wife’s new lover. And as the plot grows towards its climax, the pace becomes faster, so the table-turning conclusion feels both credible and satisfying.
On the whole, this is a decent production from a pair of capable actors, and the wife in particular is nicely drawn. But it doesn’t quite rise to the farce inherent in the script – and as a result, some of the work’s focus is lost. To make the most of The Open Couple, I think Damp Badger Productions themselves need to open out rather more.