Sunday, 14 March 2010
Theatre: 'Closer' at the Barnfield Theatre Exeter 9th - 20th March 2010
'Closer' by Patrick Marber is one of the classic plays of the 1990s. Since 1997 it's been translated into many languages and played all over the world. In 2004 it was adapted by the playwright as a film directed by Mike Nichols and starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen who also played the part of Dan in it's Royal National Theatre debut.
'Random Acts Theatre' shares several of its backroom staff and backers with 'The Particular Theatre Company' but unlike the latter's policy of featuring regional writers, they've chosen to perform a play that will be familiar in one form or another to many of the audience. That is a challenge for both cast and spectator, as many will find it difficult to get past the movie adaptation and allow the characters space to evolve.
At one point, Sebastian Pope seems to channel the voice of Clive Owen in what is otherwise a creditable performance as a Doctor who has taken the hypocritic - rather than Hippocratic - oath. Tim Metcalf-Wood blends louche with pathos as Dan the obituary writer, but seems an unlikely match for Emma Vickery's Alice who takes on the part with gamine gusto, down to the lapdancing scenes. Vicki-Jo Eva is a quiet Anna and only really comes alive in her double-header with her female counterpart. Indeed, the male-on-male and female-on-female scenes are the most compelling in a play that depends on four-way chemistry in every combination to be successful. The frisson between the male and female characters needs to develop from the first night performance I attended if the run is to be considered a complete success.
The staging owes more to the original theatre productions, being a minimalist set that successfully adapts to a new setting for every scene - hospital waiting room, photographer's studio, art gallery, internet chat room, aquarium, apartments, art gallery, hotel room etc - and the crew of Claudia Cisneros, Emily Lake and Natasza Kuler have done a good job in design and management in a production not without technical complexity. The studio room of the Barnfield Theatre allows for the performance to be done in the round, with audience never more than four rows from the stage, and this intimacy is used by Adam Brummitt to explore the mores of contemporary relationships in their every aspect, surely the reason why the play has become both notorious and lauded over the last decade.
I hope the production develops and grows over its run. It's a difficult play to get right first time, so dependent is it on the relationships between the actors convincing the audience these are characters who at various points in the arc of the play are meeting for the first time, falling in love, falling out of love, playing out rivalries, coming to realisations about themselves. I hope the audience grows too, because on the first night - a Monday - I felt like a voyeur, being almost alone.