Review: The Open Couple

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The Open CoupleWhen a young cast takes on a lesser known work of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated playwrights, one could not be blamed for feeling a bit apprehensive.  But in the case of the production of Dario Fo’s The Open Couple, currently showing at the Alexander Upstairs, such apprehension turns out to be entirely unwarranted.

Directed by Chris Weare, and starring Nathan Lynn as the promiscuous but self-pitying husband and Lar­ica Schnell as his vivacious and suicidal wife, the play grips the imagination tightly and refuses to let go.

The actors make use of a table and a couple of chairs, a few small props and mime while a foley artist, Amelia Vernede (sometimes played by Ameera Conrad), creates sounds for the actions in a quirky spectrum from the corner of the stage, using a smorgasbord of everyday items. The fine-tuned timing of this is spectacle in itself, but combined with with the farce on stage it serves to induce an immersive atmosphere and give the play an extra comic edge.

Lynn and Schnell have a palpable rapport on stage. Despite their youth the two are virtually brimming over with performative zeal.

Lynn is like the archetypal giullari resurrected. He is fascinating to watch, balancing clownish arrogance with a touch of charisma all wrapped up in ebullience, which occasionally escapes him in a rush like a deflating puffer-fish. The effect? Hilarious.

Antonia is more or less immune to her husband, who is incessantly trying to convince her why she should accept the idea of an open relationship. To this end, Schnell takes centre stage while Lynn orbits around her like an egocentric satellite. Schnell has a very grounded presence, an impeccable sense of comic timing and a remarkable poise far beyond her years.

Both actors exhibit a demonstrable control while navigating the tightrope of the charmingly ridiculous above the abyss of the agonizing death flop into which farce can so easily tumble.

The play is remarkably fluid, to the point that transitions become nearly invisible. Here, as with no few exceptionally well crafted moments, the mastermind direction of Chris Weare shows through the cracks.

As far as comedy goes, this is definitely the real thing.  That is to say, if you’re planning to see The Open Couple, you can be sure you’ll get Fo and not Faux.

Rory Appleton

The Open Couple runs at the Alexander Upstairs from 17 to 22 November 2014.

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