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Don’t Open the Door at Waterloo East Theatre | Review

It’s a bit contrived in places, but otherwise fairly credible. The Woman (Janet Behan), now of pensionable age, finds there’s The Man (Alessandro Babalola) at her door. She could, he says, save money by switching gas suppliers. Quite understandably, she’s wary, but as it’s a particularly cold day (even by London standards), her heating isn’t on as it’s on a timer, and she can’t seem to get hold of anyone because her mobile phone is either faulty or out of battery (or both), she lets him in – though I must hasten to add that he did not ask to come in, and explicitly stated he isn’t supposed to come in.

Don't Open the Door: Janet Behan and Alessandro Babalola.
Don’t Open the Door: Janet Behan and Alessandro Babalola.

It becomes apparent that he is, one way or another, going to stay for a little while, otherwise, the play would be even shorter than it already is. What begins as an attempted doorstep energy sale ends up being a rather broad and meandering play as the conversation flits from topic to topic. He looks at her photographs of family members, and she looks at pictures of his children. There is some discussion about what it is to be a black person in twenty-first century Britain (or, more specifically, north London).

The Woman is just about old enough to have had direct experience of the dying days of the British Empire, and while The Man talks about having to walk in such a way as to feel less threatened, his potential new customer goes one better, or rather one worse, with a photograph of a military officer holding a decapitated head. Each has reasons for thinking that the other is likelier to be trusted and believed by third parties – is the grass always greener on the other side?

The show ends on a cliff-hanger, with that question still unanswered. I suppose it is left to the audience to determine the possible outcome. The play’s characters are only somewhat stereotyped – she is of the generation that prefers not to be fussed over, to the point where she refuses an ambulance that is already on its way. Spoiler alert: I didn’t think she really needed one either. But there are some surprising views and opinions: while she is relaxed about the sexual orientation of her children, he is less willing to tolerate the possibility of his young children being anything other than straight in later life.

Such subtle twists and turns help to maintain interest in a play whose characters have a habit of refusing one another’s offers of assistance. Some good punchlines lighten the mood in a production that highlights both how far society has come and how far it still has to go to become truly inclusive. It’s interesting, too, how The Man feels as though he is ‘tolerated’ (without ever using the word), which puts the idea of ‘tolerance’ into perspective: do we merely tolerate (endure, put up with) others or could we be more genuinely welcoming? The play raises more questions than it answers, but nonetheless provides a lot of food for thought.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

An old woman comes back to consciousness on the sofa in her living room. Leaning over her is a stranger. She can’t quite remember what happened. Did she fall down the stairs, or was she pushed? He says she let him in. He says, I’ve called an ambulance. But I don’t need one, she says and persuades him to phone the emergency services back and tell them not to come. He is about to leave. Stay, she says, just for a while.

Two people thrown together share intimate secrets ranging from rebellion against the colonial administration in Malaya, apartheid South Africa and how to walk down the street in Tottenham.

Don’t Open the Door by Richard Roques
7.30 3rd to 15th August 2021 Sundays at 4pm
Waterloo East Theatre
https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/

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