Review - Closer - Sweet and Sour Productions


by Tom Hope

Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer’ is acknowledged as a modern classic.  Aside from getting the Mike Nichols Hollywood treatment in 2004, the play has been presented in hundreds of cities around the world (and almost as many languages) since its National Theatre premiere in 1997 London.

What makes it so compelling for actors and audiences? There’s well-turned dialogue and a mordantly satirical take on the contemporary mores of its time.  The plot twists are so comically unbelievable as to be – well, believable.  And, yes, there’s lots (and lots) of sex: not live on stage but, behind the scenes, much binding between the sheets. (If you don’t know the play, check it out here - and, if you’ve only seen the movie, be prepared for significant narrative difference).

This Sweet & Sour production locates the action firmly in its London pre-millennial locale.  A stylish set – white cubes on a greyed out chess board – serves also for projecting London backdrops to each scene (a hospital, a picture gallery, an aquarium, a cemetery, defaulting to a glittering cityscape of that iconic skyline) and then, in a coup de theatre, opens the second half in multi-coloured block-brilliance all its own, nicely complementing the overt strip-teasing that then plays out on stage.  The house and inter-scene music also authentically conjures up an inward looking moodiness apposite to pre-Blair Britannia.

So, props to director Candice Moore for, yet again, meticulous production values to get the action crackling. 

However, ‘crackling’ is where the performance I watched was wanting.  Dialogue that could have sizzled was moodily muted and moments of ‘lust at first sight’ seemed more like a ‘whatever’ shrug of the sexual shoulder. 

The script has some big asks for its cast.  Each character on paper has few redeeming features.  The skin-deep superficiality of their occupations (a stripper, a photographer, an obituarist and a dermatologist) belies a willingness in each to be led by their libidos on a circuit that made me think they’d ultimately be happiest making love to their own backsides.  To secure the audience’s sympathy demands a special level of performance, making us feel as blown away as they by the insatiable passions which just one look across a not always crowded room can unleash.

It was a Tuesday.  The wind was in the East.  Whatever the reason, the cast struggled through the first half to find a rhythm and connection by which to allow suspension of disbelief.

In the second half, the cast got into their stride, connecting (or disconnecting) in ways that made the disintegration of each relationship believable.  Yes, it’s generally easier to act miserable than euphoric and no, this production did not impale the audience with laughter every 15 seconds.   However, by the close, I cared enough about the characters for the play’s central premise (that relationships founder as readily on the rocks of truth as by the lanterns of falsehood) to go deeper than skin-deep.

Closing thought: does ‘Closer’ merit the status of a modern classic?  I’d be interested to see a production which sets the action in a different time and place (such as contemporary Hong Kong) to see how it holds up.  The characters are sufficiently abstracted for this to work.  The narrative drive and dialogue, however, are so specific to pre-millenial London that (I suspect) the play will be seen increasingly as a period piece.  Time will, of course, tell.

Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 2.5


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