Writer and Director: Richard Roques
The worst thing about this show is its title. Don’t Open The Door sounds like the name of a cheap paperback thriller or a made-for-TV film nestled into Channel 5’s weekday afternoon schedule. Richard Roques’ thoughtfully ambiguous play deserves a better title.
Set in 2002, it begins with a news broadcast and the headlines are a lot more varied than they are today. There is talk of legalising cannabis while parents discuss their distrust of vaccines (MMR) and people are up in arms at the proposed plan that Royal Mail will charge customers if they want their post delivered before 9am. Already 2002 feels like a very long time ago.
Mrs Carter’s attention turns from the TV news to the knock on the door. She won’t let the man in and so they talk through the door. He claims he’s from Npower and offers her huge savings on her gas bill. She’s not that bothered; the heating’s not worked for some time.
Despite her protestations that she is fine, the salesman realises that she is in some kind of trouble and offers his help. She opens the door, but says that she has Mace in her pocket just in case. He asks her if she would be so suspicious if he were a white man. She says she’s suspicious of everyone. It’s not clear if he believes her.
What follows is an intriguing cat and mouse struggle with perhaps Mrs Carter having the upper hand even though she is elderly and frail. The African figurines in her house hint that her life has been more eventful than Mr Npower first supposes. In return he doesn’t offer as many surprises; indeed, with his homophobia and his trio of children from different mothers, his character borders on stereotype, but Roques balances this with the assertion that society’s pervasive racism leads to limited options for people of colour.
Janet Behan plays Mrs Carter as cleverer than she seems, and does well with the rather complicated and protracted story about her time in Africa. Behan ensures that her character’s motives are captivatingly unclear. Alessandro Babalola is the Npower salesman who never cracks a smile in his interaction with the strange old woman. Alternatively threatening and vulnerable Babalola puts in good work and as the lights go down his face hauntingly conveys his character’s future.
Don’t Open The Door lasts for about 55 minutes, and is the perfect length for this interesting, if dated, two-hander. With Mrs Carter opening the door within the first ten minutes the title is an odd one. On the other hand, an equally bad title and perhaps more accurate could be Don’t Go Into The House.
Runs until 15 August 2021