Theatre Review – Closer

May 7 2010 | By More

★★☆☆☆   Challenging

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 5 – Sat 8 May 2010
By Thom Dibdin

The Grads have brought a long-range focus to their brave and challenging new production of Patrick Marber’s Closer, which is up at the Church Hill Theatre until Saturday.

Frank, brutal and packed with a rarely-seen honesty about the intimate relationship between love and sex, the play provides a satisfying reflection of social morality in late 20th century London as it follows the affairs between four individuals over a period of years.

Rhiannon King as Anna and Jonathan McGarrity as Larry in the Grads’ production of Closer

Under David Grimes’ direction the production succeeds in finding the overarching truth of Marber’s writing.

From the first meeting between backpacking young American Alice and older failing English journalist Dan, to their dramatic final encounter four years later, Grimes reveals movement and decay. Similarly, there is a resolution about photographer Anna and dermatologist Larry’s first and last encounters.

As Alice, Hillary Paterson brings a vital tension to the play’s opening scene as she rummages through Dan’s briefcase. There is a delicious sense of dread as Andrew McKay allows Dan to become entrapped by this beguiling character. She as young predator, he as her older prey.

Later, when Rhiannon King’s Anna is quietly taking photographs in an aquarium and Jonathan McGarrity’s Larry mistakes her for a woman he had a particularly dirty encounter with in an internet chatroom, there is again a spark of danger about his foolishness and her ice-cold exterior.

The trouble is that these are just isolated moments in first half which never, otherwise, finds any emotional depth. It takes the characters’ detachment to such an extreme that Larry and Dan’s internet sex-chat, played out completely on-screen, seems positively nuanced in relation to the flat dialogue in the rest of the encounters.

bristles with potential

What should be spicy, edgy stuff, is as vanilla as the ice creams on sale during the interval. Which is something of a shame, as the dialogue bristles with potential as the characters circle and prowl around each other.

It does get more edgy in the second half, when Larry encounters Alice in the private room of a strip-club. And so it should, given Paterson’s constant gyrations in her underwear and McGarrity’s bluff, blustering attempts to get under her skin and make her admit who she really is.

Yet it is all surface. They never recapture that opening tension. You never believe, not for an instant, that they would go all the way, that Paterson is really about to take her clothes off or that McGarrity is going to break the no-contact rules of the club.

Closer is a big ask for an amateur company to stage – made even bigger by the echoes of the 2004 award-winning movie staring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen. And the Grads have given themselves every opportunity of pulling it off.

There’s none of the vocal hesitation which would kill the dialogue stone dead. The set is a brilliantly conceived piece of minimalism that works by suggesting place rather than recreating it. And the use of music is entirely appropriate.

It just seems that the company have mistaken the characters’ lack of depth when it comes to their relationships for a lack of depth to the characterisations. Paterson’s Alice apart, you never really believe that they are who they say they are. Which is the biggest irony of the whole evening.

Run ends Saturday 8 May

Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, 7:30pm, (2pm matinee Sat).

Tickets £9 (£7) on the door

Grads website

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Robert says:

    I completely agree with you, I thought the whole production lacked Direction. The set looked stunning and Jonathan McGarrity had excellent stage presence but the whole thing lacked something, they didn’t understand what they were saying and I felt lost in the whole piece andin some parts bored

  2. Susan Wales says:

    If you read the director’s notes in the programme you’ll see reference to the fact that many of us were doubtful about the choice of this play. However, I saw it last night and was extremely pleased with it. I am delighted to have been proved wrong. Even the sweary words seemed entirely in context.
    I felt the acting was of a totally professional standard. My main “benchmark” with all the many amateur and professional shows I attend, is the believability of the characters, and I felt they were completely convincing. (I hated them all – horrible self-centered people!) The staging and scene changes were slick, the lighting and costumes excellent.
    I still don’t like the play itself but I’d rather see this standard of performance in a play I’m not too keen on, than a jolly story with poorer quality performances.
    I suspect some groups are judged differently because they do put on high quality stuff but sometimes this rather distorts the impression given in reviews.