The premise for LIP Theatre Company’s Open Heart Surgery seems reasonably interesting. A failing and socially conservative relationship counsellor is forced to take on a gay couple as clients in order to pay for her husband’s pub visits, while the couple tries to navigate their increasingly hostile relationship against a backdrop of 9-5 jobs and familial tension.
It is a shame, then, that the execution let this concept down so badly. The main issue seems to be with the script rather than the acting. For example, the counsellor, Sandra, is unsatisfied with her own marriage and, in a move which would undoubtedly break every ethics code the National Counselling Society can produce, decides to discuss her issues with Leo (half of the couple she is counselling). This monologue begins to verge on the ridiculous when she reveals that the reason she hates gay people is due to Christopher, the man her father had an affair with. The whole scene ends with her screaming, “love doesn’t matter! Relationships don’t need love!” A creeping realisation dawns on the audience that perhaps Sandra has gone into the wrong line of work.
Another problem, apart from the odd counsellor-turns-into-the-counselled fiasco with Leo, is that we never get into Sandra’s head. The only reason the viewer can understand her motivations is because it’s all too predictable—layabout husband, traumatic childhood, debt… This applies to the other characters, as well: they don’t develop from the caricatures we see in the first few minutes of the show. Will is too uptight, Leo can’t talk about his feelings, Sandra’s husband doesn’t do the washing up and is overly critical of her.
This is frustrating: there is a lot of scope here for the creation of a genuinely good show. The actors are clearly engaged and talented, and the dynamics between the characters could also be explored in much more depth. If Sandra’s husband was the homophobe out of the two of them, would she have to choose between her business and her husband? What if Leo and Will did break up, but it made Sandra realise that her own relationship was crumbling as well? The concept and enthusiasm is there. It’s a shame that a below-par execution lets the cast down.