by Alice Lintern
After watching The Rise and Fall of Little Voice the week before, I had high expectations for Act One’s production of Closer. I was not disappointed.
First performed in 1997, Patrick Marber’s play holds, at its core, the philosophical narrative that to love another person authentically is to understand them wholly. And that wanting to be loved is the desire to be understood. Marber sets up literary and romantic tropes within this play only to have them obliterated as it becomes evident that they conceal the brutalities and challenges of everyday life and blot out the character’s abilities to deal with their own faults and weaknesses.
Act One’s production captured Marber’s quick-witted style within the first two scenes. This was most prominent in Alex Cook’s performance as obituarist Dan who pulled off the seductive subtleties of the play. His opening scene with Alice (played by Michaela Minkin) had perfect timing and pace; Minkin’s performance was most notable as she delivered the profundity and depth of her lines with remarkable ease throughout.
Miriam Hopkins’ cool portrayal of Anna showed an instant connection with the characters she engaged with on stage. As a photographer, Anna embodied the play’s suggestion that the characters have their own personalised lens/view on society which, whilst initially endearing and inspiring, eventually results in those they think they have connected with at an irretrievable distance. The black box theatre style mirrored this as did Anna’s costume (a black and white blouse). It was evident that until the end of the play, when Anna decides to leave the city and stop seeking love, she had been constructing her own reality. Even when photographing strangers, she was presenting a chiaroscuro filter and thus creating a version of the truth that she wanted to see.
Marber contrasts this with the character of Larry (played by Luke Merchant): a dermatologist and ‘wannabe’ alpha male. Merchant successfully broke through the romantic illusions of the play put in place by the others with his character’s understanding of truth, love and desire through a scientific understanding of the biological human body. As a self-proclaimed “Cave Man”, his base sexual desire is realised as perceiving love and sex as one in the same and eventually it is Daniel (arguably Marber’s constructed romantic hero) who is punished by trying to separate them. Daniel loses the women he loves because he cannot emotionally connect to Anna or Alice whilst being intimate with them whereas Larry’s lack of romantic fallacy allows him to grasp an understanding of the human condition and ultimately see the truth of a person. Through this, he comes closer to love than all of the other characters by the end of the play which is carried well through Merchant’s emotional range as an actor.
The audience’s engagement and apparent enjoyment in the sweltering room was a testament to this production (with the temperature outside rising to 20 degrees). This thought-provoking and sophisticated performance delivered as a cathartic revival of an intelligent and challenging play.