Closer

Tue 29th May – Sat 2nd June 2012

reviews

Sorcha Kurien-Walsh

at 23:09 on 29th May 2012

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'Closer' is an ambitious play to stage. Not only is it shadowed by the success of its more famous adaption for cinema, but it requires a great deal from its cast. Patrick Marber places his characters-two dysfunctional couples- in embarrassingly intimate situations. Entering the underground Keble O’Reilly theatre, I had a brief nightmare of being forced to watch two hours of earnest hysteria more suited for a therapist’s office than a stage. Luckily, Jack Sain is a confident and innovative director. There are few ostentatious technical elements; instead, the production trusts to the capabilities of its exemplar cast and material.

'Closer' follows the relationships between four men and women in London in the nineties, as they struggle with various romantic dilemmas and conflicts. The premise is fairly generic, but 'Closer' deviates from this well-trodden path in its merciless depiction of human weaknesses. Marber’s characters are at once affectionate, selfish, cowardly, admirable. They have no idea what they want, or what to do with the things they have. There is an extraordinary amount of casual cruelty in this play, and it would be easy to dismiss its characters as self-indulgent and dislikeable were it not for the subtlety of Marber’s writing and the talent of the cast. Jeremy Neumark Jones brings a nervous warmth to the otherwise wholly selfish Dan. Georgina Hellier is just as convincing in the role of Anna, providing an assured foil to Ella Waldman’s Alice. Waldman herself is charming, and arguably has the most difficult role, requiring her to balance brio and vulnerability. Whilst convincingly vivacious, I found she did not quite convey Alice’s oft-mentioned fragility. Arty Bolour Froushan, whilst endearingly awkward during his comedic scenes, becomes a little one-note when emotions run high. Nevertheless, these are minor criticisms of a cast that are on the whole excellent. Their performances are perfectly judged- neither over nor understated, a feat given the potentially sensational material they are working with.

An unsympathetic member of the audience might question why exactly these characters are so driven to destroy themselves, and others. Marber’s conclusion is pessimistic- “Man is an animal”- but 'Closer' is nevertheless suffused with tender moments. It is a sobering corrective to the myth of romance, but by no means heartless.

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JY Hoh

at 02:48 on 30th May 2012

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I've always felt that the best sort of art is the kind that is the most moving, regardless of whether the feelings roused are positive or negative. I left the Keble O'Reilly this evening feeling extremely disgusted and horrified, much to the credit of Jack Sain and his team, who manage the tricky task of making despicable behaviour look stylish and attractive. This is an extremely high-powered piece of theatre, guided by an assured directorial hand, buttressed by impressive production values, and possessing at its core a clutch of central performances so unerringly solid that for the length of the play, the four actors seemed to be engaged in a game of perpetual oneupmanship.

Ever present throughout Fools & Kings' latest offering is Jack Sain's masterful direction, which achieved tidiness, clarity, and verisimilitude. The set created spaces that are notable for how well they supported the central action, with clean backdrops that outlined but never distracted from the performances - a simple sheet of white cloth, or a single piece of furniture like a couch or a dining table. Four suspended plastic rectangles served an innovative dual purpose; to act as doors whenever the setting required it, and to frame the main characters at the start and end of the play. Sain also appears to have instructed his actors to perform in as naturalistic a style as possible, with the laudable result that any sort of overstatement, excessive underlining or over-the-top acting was absent. About twenty minutes into the play it occurred to me that I had completely forgotten that I was watching actors on a stage - it felt instead as if I were watching real conversations taking place in real places, a sure sign that what I was watching was less of an amateurish student production and more akin to a piece of work of professional calibre.

'Closer' is a play about charming people doing horrible things to each other, and it takes a talented cast to pull off roles that require a complex tension of emotions. Luckily, 'talented' is an understatement for the cast of 'Closer', who appear to have all assimilated their characters seamlessly into their own personalities. Daniel (Jeremy Neumark Jones) is the 'romantic' writer, and Jones combines his boyscout-worthy fresh face and a sensitive, cultured voice to mask his character's appalling selfishness; it is easy to see how Alice (Ella Waldman) could be taken in by his silver tongue and superficial charm. Waldman faces the difficult task of bringing to life a character that must be simultaneously girlishly innocent and sensually intoxicating, and discharges this duty with top marks. Her Alice is sweet and winsome, but she also manages to demonstrate just how willing she is to use her sexuality to her advantage during one daring scene set in a strip club. Larry's (Arty Bolour-Froshan) working-class background distinguishes him slightly from the other characters, as does his overt sadism. Bolour-Froshan's knack for emanating primal rage serves his character well, and his unrefined voice joins his sudden, atavistic mannerisms in sketching a character that is very, very rough around the edges. That Anna (Georgina Hellier) ends up marrying him is slightly ironic, as she is the most ostensibly mature and civilised of the foursome, and Heller plays the older, competent woman with a confidence that is commendable for a student at least ten years younger. If you forced me to pick a stand out performance, it would be close, but I would have to go with Hellier's; she gives a showing that is unbelievably nuanced, able to communicate an immense range of emotion and feeling with a single word. A particularly intense scene between Hellier and Bolour-Froshan near the end of the first act left me breathless. These four number amongst some of the finest performances I have seen in Oxford.

Some qualifications are due. At certain points, particularly during the strip-tease scene, the actors' naturalistic styles teetered on the edge of ringing false on some of the script's more flamboyant one-liners. In addition, the projected photograph of Alice did not look nearly as sad as Waldman did when it was being taken onstage, and the slap that occurs near the end of the play was executed in a way that was curiously feeble. These criticisms, however, are minor and are almost negligible amidst a production of top-shelf technical skill. This play will seduce you with its sleekness, then leave you nauseous and ill - I could not recommend it more.

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