Imagine having a best before end date, like you were a packet of crisps, or perhaps a bottle of mineral water, apparently filtered through a kilometre or more of limestone over 5000 years but nonetheless due to expire in less than five. I couldn’t quite stretch my imagination to believing in a world where knowledge of when a person would die would be known with any degree of certainty, and like Natasha (Eliana Ostro) in Open Road, I felt the ‘Life Test’ has its drawbacks.
Purely out of curiosity, I completed one of those ‘how old will you be when you die’ online tests after seeing the show. The one I took asked me half a dozen rudimentary questions (including ‘What colour is your hair?’) before deciding that I was “going to make it all the way to the last of the double digits! That’s quite a feat considering some of your habits, but you’ve managed to balance them just right so that you live all the way to 99. That’s going to be so many candles, you should consider asking for a fire extinguisher for your last birthday.” I do not, of course, have any intention of taking such a prediction seriously.
In the world inhabited by the characters of Open Road, however, there is no choice: the Life Test has been proven, presumably through historical data, to have 99 per cent accuracy in predicting how old someone will be when they die. This bizarre world makes a number of assumptions. I will not list them all here. One example, then: abortion has been made illegal, though the play does not explain what would happen in instances where the life of the mother is in danger if the pregnancy continued, a situation which both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church agree would constitute legitimate grounds for termination.
But then, the Life Test would predict that such a person would die anyway at a young age; it does not, as far as I could deduce, say anything about the method by which a person will pass away. Still, what about road traffic accidents? What if someone decided to be taken by their own hand? Maybe this world is one in which attempted suicide has been recriminalized. With all these thoughts and more, whirling around in my mind, the show became more than a tad overwhelming as I tried to grapple with its themes. Add to this the sort of problems only to be expected from the stresses and strains of life bearing down on the three couples in this play, and the end result is a production that covers more ground in one hour than some other plays do in two.
The opening scene, in particular, is naturalistic in its speech patterns. The stops, starts and rapid rephrasing of opinions mimics typical conversation. It’s a slight pity, then, that this isn’t continued into later scenes. Certain characters conveniently leave the front room just long enough for the rest to discuss those not present at that moment. There’s some character development, though most of it happens in the last quarter of the show, when the formalities between these friends have finally dropped and some forthright views are exchanged and counter-exchanged.
It would have been beneficial to have someone who hadn’t taken the Life Test to take it on stage, even if this were done as some sort of flashback scene. At times, all six characters speak as though they were one person with six mouths, such was the similarities between them in tone of voice, personality and sense of humour. At least two characters are (separately) going through quarter-life crises, putting the production at risk of melodrama.
This is certainly a grounded and ambitious play, and very much an ensemble production. It’s also rather pedantic on occasion, but there’s some credibility in the assertion that while the Life Test resolves some issues, it creates others. You could, however, have figured that out without having seen Open Road.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Set over the course of one evening, three couples come together to celebrate some exciting news: Natasha is going to live to 82. However, all is not as it seems. As the evening unfolds, relationships are pushed to breaking point. Open Road is a fast-paced and hard-hitting drama, exploring how life might differ if we knew our own expiration date.
Written by Eliana Ostro
Directed by Antonia Ward
Produced by Rose de Castellane
Allie – Grace Stafford
Charlie – Phoebe Gibby
Dan – Gilbert Kyem Jr.
Sam – Rufus Cameron
Sophie – Catherine Cranfield
Natasha – Eliana Ostro
Ecce Theatre’s second production, Open Road, written by Eliana Ostro.
Performance at the Drayton Arms in South Kensington, on the 26th July.