Wednesday, August 10, 2016

CLOSER - an elaborately planned formal theatrical garden (Crescent Arts Centre until 13 August)

Dan is an obituary writer (“it’s a living”) who chivalrously accompanies Alice to hospital after a road accident and flirts with her as she awaits medical attention. Dr Larry passes by and quickly dismisses her injuries as unremarkable. A year later Dan has written a book about Alice’s past life, and Anna is shooting publicity portraits. Dan flirts with her too. Later he unwittingly introduces Anna to Larry and they hit if off.

And that’s only the start of Closer, a twelve scene play full of twists and turns, driven by elaborate coincidences, character flaws, mistaken notions of love, lust, jealously, belonging and truth, and a generous seasoning of playwright licence.

The internet chatroom scene provides much comedy – through its staging and facial expressions as much as the dialogue – and the cast’s delivery of Patrick Marber’s well written verbal retorts generate chuckles throughout. However, the tragedy of the perpetually breaking down relationships rob the play of any sense of farce.

Jonathan Blakeley plays Dan who is a cad and a bounder: by the end of the play it is hard to fathom how at least three women could ever have fallen for the failed novelist’s absent charms. Lee Thomas (who also directed the play) combines smugness with sleaze to bring revengeful Larry to life.

Alice is the most vulnerable character and Katriona Perrett successfully combines being bubbly, brave, brazen and needy in her warm portrayal of the young woman who tries to keep control by suppressing her truth. Gemma Leader inflates Anna with a flattering air of confidence and assurance before gently puncturing this image when she allows herself to be messed around by Dan and Larry.

The staging is minimalist and the scene changes rapid yet elegantly choreographed. Strobe lighting is effectively though somewhat inconsistently used to signify the boundary between some early scenes before being dropped later in the play.

Patrick Marber’s 1997 play Closer is like an elaborately planned formal theatrical garden, with the many delicately sized scenes bursting with symmetry. Facts and context are withheld until you need to know. Along with the sparse scenery this leaves the audience’s imaginations straining to figure out what’s going on until the missing nugget of information is dropped into the conversation. Guess correctly, and it’s terribly satisfying.

Marber’s exploration of libido and questioning of whether the truth really can set any of this hurting quartet free is beginning to date in this age of Tinder. Yet it’s worth swiping right to see this confident production. With explicit and naturalistic language throughout, yet set in a fabricated and totally unnatural series of circumstances, Closer is raw and incredibly well executed.

Closer is the inaugural show by new theatre group London Irish Productions and you can catch this polished production is being performed in the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast until 13 August.

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