Closer by Patrick Marber is a play about the emotional distance that can occur in relationships and the restless neediness of love, following the interweaving and interrelating lives of four characters.
The innovation that had gone into the staging of this play was immediately clear. Set in the round (arguably not that original for a production in St Andrews as this style seems to be very in vogue) the audience were seated around a central double bed, above which hung four television monitors facing each side of the audience. This unusual technical set up, designed by Caelan Mitchell-Bennett, was ambitious. Unfortunately, the high placement of the monitors meant filmography by Sasha Mann and Morgan Corby was not visible to much of the audience.
However, this technology was not superfluous and really sang in a scene in which Dan and Larry (Bailey Fear and Louis Wilson) talk in an internet chat room with the written conversation both narrated by the actors and displayed on the monitors above them. Having been written in the 90s, the slang the characters used (and the concept of a chat room) was a little outdated; however, Mitchell-Bennet and director Daniel Jonusas’ clever use of technology updated the scene, making it feel more relevant. Fear and Wilson’s comedic timing was spot on, and musical editor Annabel Steele’s inspired use of James Blunt songs throughout this scene was hilarious. This scene stood out both for its effective use of tech and as an interlude in an otherwise serious play.
The danger with performing ‘Closer’ is that in the hands of the wrong team, it could turn into some kind of watered down porno. But that was not the case in this production. Jonusas should be credited for the work that clearly went into developing the characters’ relationships. Most scenes were duologues, and therefore it was essential the cast have a convincing chemistry; which they did, as well as each giving strong performances in their own right. Hannah Gilchrist’s Alice balanced her role of stripper with the innocence and vulnerability of a girl who just wanted to be loved. Fear’s Dan made clear his love for this innocence, but also for Anna’s (Ellie Hope) more mature energy, with an earnest desire that showed a genuine feeling of connection to both women. Hope’s Anna remained the perfect amount of detached to portray her character’s emotional distance, without seeming aloof, creating a character who was an irresistibly intriguing mixture of coldness and warmth. However, Wilson was a particular standout as the occasionally lecherous Larry, still managing to make the audience laugh and actually warm to his character. His scream while in the strip club with Alice, “What have you got to do to get some intimacy around here?”, was powerful and believable without being melodramatic.
A minor criticism is that this emotive moment was slightly lost due to the in the round staging. I was on the side on which Wilson was standing at this moment, but felt that some of its impact was missing as he shouted out into the void of the entrance door. This was an issue with other important scenes, such as a physical fight between Dan and Alice, when a slap which could be heard but not seen consequently lost some of its impact. Due to the nature of in the round staging something will always be missed; however, in a production which created an almost film-like style through music and scene transitions, this staging seemed to detract from that impression.
That being said, Closer really was a joy to watch, remaining captivating and interesting throughout its 2-hour runtime. The production was an obvious work of love, as was clear from the set and soundtrack, and the strong direction and performances. The ending was emotional, but also reflective. It was (to paraphrase Dan) a moment in your life.