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Review: Open For Everything @ Royal Court

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

Constanza Macras’ Open For Everything, with its 19-strong cast and five-man band, is one of the largest shows ever staged at the Royal Court. With all 24 performers on stage, the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs can look crowded at times, but the hustle and bustle brings a bubbling vitality to this exploration of the Roma way of life, leaving Open For Everything a riotous, rhythmic whirlwind of dance theatre that makes up for what it loses in translation through invention and energy.

Macras’ show, presented as part of the London International Festival of Theatre, is an eclectic mix of style and symbolism that begins with an impossible number of people clambering out of a beaten-up car – part of Tal Chacham’s grimy, gritty set – and proceeds to race through 100 minutes of dance, music and storytelling in an attempt to elucidate the culture of ‘the last nomadic tribe of Europe’. There are joyously slick traditional gypsy jigs, stylish and sinuous contemporary dances, and even a semi-ironic Spanish flamenco thrown into the mix. The biggest cheer, however – somewhat embarrassingly – is for an admittedly terrific hip-hop dance to Adele’s Rolling In The Deep. So much for embracing the foreign theatre.

This isn’t a touchy-feely, sentimental paean to a misunderstood people and a disappearing way of life though. It’s not afraid of a bit of indulgent romanticism, sure, but this is always done with tongue slightly in cheek; the outsider looking for some profound meaning is a figure of fun throughout. For the most part, the Roma culture is transplanted onto the stage warts and all: in amongst the carefree dancing, drug addiction, alcoholism, and domestic violence regularly rear their ugly heads. This is not a picture postcard life of camp fires and folk songs, we are forcibly informed, but a tough existence, a society riddled with problems like any other. The impossibility of an itinerant way of life to exist in a world with more and more borders looms large at all times.

For all this integrity and energy though, Open For Everything lacks clarity and progression. Dances grow repetitive and impenetrable, musical numbers are uncomfortably drawn out at times and – although performed with panache by Marek Balog and his band – struggle to marry with the dances. The sporadic snatches of storytelling don’t slot neatly together into an intelligible jigsaw either; the audience is left with an impression of Roma culture, not an understanding. All told, as a revelation of an alien culture, this doesn’t really compete with a play like David Hare’s adaptation of Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers.

As with all LIFT shows, it’s worth asking what British theatre can learn from Open For Everything. Well, it’s un-patronising attitude towards minority cultures is a breath of fresh air and its unapologetically rampant eclecticism is infectiously exuberant. It’s mix of professionals and amateurs – the cast a ragtag bunch of Roma performers and members of Macras’ own group, DorkyPark – also adds a certain liveliness. Beyond that, however, there’s not much to shout about here.

3/5

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