Patrick Marber’s play Closer examines the relationships of four individuals: Dan, Alice, Larry, and Anna. They meet, fall for one another, cheat on each other with each other, and repeat – each encounter eroding what remains of the affection they began with. This contemporary performance is accessible, but not basic, and carries all the emotional weight and resonance that melodrama offers in the hands of skilled performers.
Director Melissa McShane’s set is broadly horizontal—a panorama of intimate space containing a couch, a table, an office, and a bed. A projector screen rests in the middle, the source of one of the play’s most memorable scenes, a chat conversation—a dirty chat conversation—between Larry and who he thinks to be a woman. The play’s most compelling element is in its staging, which overlaps the cast’s movements over these four spaces to suggest both physical proximity and great emotional distance. McShane develops stagings—giving Dan the couch; Larry, the office—only to disrupt them as the characters reveal their infidelities. In an overlapping sequence Alice talks to Dan, and Larry to Anna, where neither couple recognises the other in their midst. It’s claustrophobic. The action contained to small segments of the panorama, leaving us to ruminate on just how intimately these four are acquainted after their chance encounters. The bed in the middle—staged as bed, hotel room, strip club—is an epicentre of action, evoking the text’s jealousy, passion, and rage.
Ostensibly, the play might be concerned with how men pigheadedly sabotage their relationships, but McShane has attempted to extricate her staging from politics. Her director’s note reads, “this play should be void of concepts and messages”. While it’s impossible to completely extricate the play from the politics, especially in scenes of domestic violence and intimidation, Marber’s script seems to suggest that his men’s callousness might be less a function of gender or class, than the result of an impenetrable suffering. In line with this, McShane’s emphasis rests less on the characters’ identities, than on the specific, and pleasurably vague, nature of their individual brokenness. They suffer their fair share of emotional distress—we hear it alluded to in dead parents or unfulfilling past relationship—but the text offers no real explanation, no blame, for their coldness. Instead, the source of their distress is somewhere inaccessible, beyond offstage, leaving us to project our own experience and subconsciousness onto them.
I have some mild misgivings about the performance. The musical transitions—jarring explosions into what is essentially break-up music—often undermines the emotional downturns that conclude each scene. The acting speaks for itself, and needs no adulteration. In the same breath, however, music is central in two key triumphs in the production.The, perhaps hilarious, use of Song 2 by Blur at a transition in Act II brings a kinetic energy to Dan and Alice’s dance onto the stage, It’s effective, as is the low-thumping base of the diegetic score inside the strip club. In both of these moments the music heightens the play’s central melodrama. Though, sometimes it’s a case of too much and verges on distracting. For example, the brilliant seediness evoked by Mount Kimbie’s low-thumping bass in the strip club is subsequently undermined by an over-the-top explosion into drums.
Visually, however, the play is remarkable. The stage is bathed in different washes: floral blues, warm golds, and a sterile bright white that seems to pierce through the figures on the stage. This evokes a view of the cast as objects beneath a lens, subjects that might be, and are, dissected before us. It emphasises the melodrama, draws attention to the pain in the mouths and the eyes, and gives the production a subtly cinematic quality.
Claudia Osborne plays Alice with great subtlety and conviction as a profoundly disaffected youth. She dissects her lovers’ motivations while hiding her own anguish beneath layers of hip monotone. She acts with her entire body, conveying unease easily with slight movements and ambling heels, while her most piercing remarks are delivered with such practiced disinterest that they cannot help but hurt. Complimenting this, Claudio Trovato’s Larry is a dynamic ball of sexual energy, evincing a passion that borders on violence through a series of verbal eruptions. He makes use of the space, conveys a physically threatening presence, and possesses a fervour that only aggravates through contact with the cynical Alice. Without spoiling much, a conversation he shares (or perhaps imposes) on Anna towards the end of Act I might be the play’s highlight. Hannah Cox balances the paradox of Anna’s age and experience as well as what remains of her optimism about love. She instigates many of the play’s funniest moments, while also being a victim of its most dramatic, demonstrating fine ability to thrive amidst the play’s tragic and comic extremes. Finally, Jem Rowe crafts an object of pity in the failed writer Dan, conveying both sliminess in his late night chat room escapades, as well as an ultimate sadness in his incapacity to find solace in a relationship or expression through art. There’s a precision in his movement about the stage that compliments Dan’s obsession with how he might appear.
In the hands of amateurs, this source material could only be juvenile. Instead, it’s elevated by a cast of remarkable maturity, with staging that forces proximity on a broad and swallowing stage. It’s funny (because it’s relatable) and painful (because it’s relatable). These characters speak honestly, and at times embarrassingly, the same way you will the next time you fall out of love.
Patrick Marber’s Closer
Performed by SUDS at Studio B, 7:30pm.
Wednesday to Saturday, May 28th to June 7th.