Taking place in the greatest of British institutions — a chip shop — on election night, Open is a devised work by the student-run Nottingham New Theatre. It asks what it means to be British today, and offers responses from the average citizen down the street.

A well-made and enjoyable performance.

The opening sequence interlaces snippets of verbatim interviews with rhythmic spoken word. Music supports this to create a sense of energy. We’re hooked into the performance from the beginning. Each of the five actors inhabits several different characters with simple changes of accent or costume, sharing their opinions about the problems of today. All of the performers are excellent, and the character of the street busker who is trying to get enough change to buy some chips is particularly sympathetic, especially when he shares his experience of homelessness.

There’s power in these words because they come from a place of truth and lived experience. The ensemble demonstrates an excellent grasp of verbatim and clearly have conducted the research for this piece without imposing their own values and judgements on those they interviewed. However, the form is both blessing and curse, as it doesn’t enable the work to make a clear statement.

Unlike verbatim pieces such as The Laramie Project, there is no shared event being described by the characters in this play, which would allow for a narrative structure. Instead, it is a sometimes nebulous series of monologues and moments sharing opinions. We meet characters briefly, gain an insight into their opinions, and then they disappear. Some we sympathise with, some we disagree with, some we hear ourselves in.

The fish and chip shop as framing device is clever, offering up a range of clientele with viewpoints and backgrounds as diverse as their orders and presenting an intelligent snapshot of contemporary Britain. The repeated motif of transactions between customers and the chippy staff keeps us connected to the sense of place, although this settles into a slightly predictable structural pattern around the midpoint of the play.

The ideas served up are often familiar — the types of conversations many of us have had over a pint about democracy, the NHS, unemployment, immigration and racism — so the show needs something further to elevate it beyond those pub conversations. Perhaps if the ending used a similar device to the opening, allowing some commentary against the verbatim text, it would be more satisfying. Despite this, it is a well-made and enjoyable performance.

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The Blurb

Sharp devised theatre peering through the cracks in modern Britain. A brand new original piece set in a takeaway on election night. This play brims with bizarre characters, plucked right from the Great British public, spinning a tale of nostalgic optimism and greasy fingers. We have cobbled together stories from across Britain in an attempt to find the threads of commonality often hidden from view. If you love Russell Brand, hate Russell Brand, watch Question Time, watch Gogglebox, vote UKIP, vote Green, love this country or don’t recognise it anymore, this one’s for you.