first night

Closer

Rosie Boscawen gets a closer a look at CTC's first offering of the new academic year in the Assembly Rooms...

 

In Castle Theatre Company’s production of Patrick Marber’s Olivier award winning play Closer, Director Charlotte Peters’ four man cast brilliantly fling the ferociously quick duologues, often one line retorts, which fly back and forth between the characters, hiding and then revealing the unrelenting sexual current beneath the conversation as it undulates.
 
From the opening scene where Alice, a young American stripper played provocatively yet sensitively by Gabriella Wass, drapes herself first over the hospital waiting-room chairs, then over Dan (Hugo Soul), who she has just met, they seem emotionally isolated from one another, despite physical proximity. Gabriella’s Alice is poignantly childish: at Anna’s photographic studio she pulls on Dan’s fingers as a baby pulls on its mother’s. She grows up a little when she later leaves him, picking up her school-boy’s rucksack; a subtle, painfully appropriate touch which reveals the inner child this Alice tries to hide. In the penultimate scene, when she leaves for him for a second time, she regresses, cowering against the wall at the front of the stage, trying to shrink back into herself but succeeding only in revealing her fragility.
 
Compare this with Saskia Stainer-Hutchin’s peerless portrayal of Anna, a photographer. She is visibly more mature throughout the play; in the scene at her opening exhibition, she wears a sophisticated black and white dress, while Alice dons a low-cut, short black one. Like her studio, seen a couple of scenes earlier and where she first meets Alice’s Dan, she is understated and does not vie for attention with her appearance. The script itself is almost devoid of stage directions, potentially leaving the actress unable to fully immerse herself in the character, yet the way she wrings her hands and turns away from Dan and his proposal on that exhibition night shows a deep-seated understanding of Anna that enables us to imagine her life off the stage.
 
Easily the most powerful scene is when Dan and Anna leave Alice and Larry (Jonathan Bullock). Cleverly staged, with Anna clasping her knees and warring with her conscience on the left, Dan wakes a sleeping Alice to tell her that he is leaving her for Anna on the right. Coldly and heartlessly, he tells her he has chosen to be selfish and to love Anna, yet I found myself unconvinced of his professed love for either girl. However, as Anna sits in her house while Dan does the dirty, her body language echoes Dan’s turmoil; the same is true when Anna overcomes her cowardice with genuine agony and tells Larry about the affair: Dan buries his face in his hands whilst Alice packs her rucksack, which Anna longs to do rather than admit the extent of her infidelity.
 
The act culminates with Anna and Larry as it started with Dan and Alice: physically getting ever closer, but emotionally still distant. They hurl jealous taunts at one another, voices escalating in clear embarrassment and shame, running circles in towards one another, the only thing that could possibly be touching is their spit as they come up close, frighteningly so; the only remaining testimony to the love they once had.
 
The white stage makes for an ironic contrast to the pornographic language, particularly when Dan (pretending to be Anna) tells Larry (who has not yet met any of them) his sex-ex fantasies in an internet chat-room in the same ironic but disinterested tone with which he makes some of the more profound statements on isolation in the play. Though amusing, this undermines the ‘Towering Romantic Hero’ in him, the knight with whom the damsel Alice falls in love, the poet who begs Anna – albeit on a whim of unconvincing romanticism – to grow old with him. Nevertheless, the use of the projector to show their dialogue at the back of the stage is highly effective, as its innovative use in between scenes. At one scene change: glimpses of lonely faces, at another: a string of couples embracing, but with a trace of sadness. Combined with the lighting, it makes this production one of the most technically creative and exciting I have seen.
 
The play ends with ‘dirty’ Dr. Larry chatting amicably with Anna, now his ex. Like Saskia’s Anna, Jonathan’s Larry is very human. Perhaps unintentionally, though not to his discredit, he is more poetic than sleazy Dan. They are both ‘reserved’ in their way, but whereas Dan’s hidden self is an unattractive and desperate boy, Larry’s is a thoughtful, honest adult, whose body language, in spite of his verbal crudity, speak of a longing for love. Unfortunately, the point at which the two male characters appear most sensitive is when Dan goes to Larry’s surgery for advice and breaks down in tears. While this is very moving (and there is a similar moment between Anna and Alice), it seems unrealistic to suggest that they are incapable of showing any such deep emotion besides jealousy – which is done almost perfectly – towards whoever it is that they love.
 
Castle Theatre Company has created a fantastic piece of theatre from a text open to wide interpretation and full of hidden meanings. There is no time for breath or for logical thought: the cast sweep us along in their wake of turbulent emotion so that, when the curtain falls, we feel, for all our moral judgments, just as frustrated as the characters themselves at mankind’s inability to get close.

31 January 2009

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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