Closer – Hope Mill Theatre

Patrick Marber’s award-winning play Closer features such a strong script that it has been adapted into a film in 2004. Nominated for several Oscars, it also picked up some BAFTAs and Golden Globes along the way.

Marber’s magnificent script is the heart of the film and the stage play. Its intricate, interweaving plot focuses on four characters and their relationships with one another. Cheating, lying, sex and seduction are prevalent, proving how relationships can become as corrupt and corrosive as the people within them.

Doctor, Larry (Oliver Mellor) meets Alice (Nicole Evans) in a Lap Dance club. Photo Credit – Page 2 Stage Productions.

Marber’s characters are ambiguously puzzling, each wearing a façade, with complex layers of duplicitous artificiality. They are so deceitful to each other, and themselves, that their true personalities become obscure. Watching Closer is an uncomfortable experience, as the play’s four characters have no redeeming qualities, and are genuinely unlikable. It is like watching Game of Thrones, without the dragons or incest. Although you dislike Marber’s characters, they are all captivating. There is something strangely alluring about characters that exhibit the base depravity inherent within humanity.

These roles must be a challenge for any actor to play, as their true characteristics are never revealed. However, in this production, the four performers, Oliver Mellor, Justine Elizabeth Bailey, Nicole Evans, and Darren John Langford, seem inspired by the play’s ambiguity. They each render a character that is despicably malevolent, yet retains enough compassion to make them perplexing enough to keep the audience interested. Each member of the ensemble provides a  magnificent performance, perfectly handling the intense scrutiny and tension that their ambivalent character entails.

A minimalist set also helps focus the audience’s attention on the superbly rendered characters. Allowing for seamless transitions between scenes, the set also provides the opportunity for two scenes to be simultaneously performed, brilliantly interlinking the action between the two couples. There are times when one member of the opposing couple remains on stage during the other’s breakup, visually representing the complex love triangles that are corrosive to the relationships.

Larry (Oliver Mellor) pays for a lap dance from Alice (Nicole Evans). Photo Credit – Page 2 Stage Productions.

This clever juxtaposition of scenes works brilliantly in the play’s most memorable scene that takes place over an internet chatroom. Obituary writer, Daniel (Darren John Langford) pretends to be a sexy blonde woman with 36DD breasts and “wet knickers” in order to sexually entice doctor, Larry (Oliver Mellor). As Langford reclines on a sofa with his laptop, eating peanuts, Mellor sits in his doctor’s practice on the computer. Their hilarious conversation is relayed on a projector at the rear of the stage (warning – bring your reading glasses). Without dialogue, this scene is wickedly funny, showing the seedier side of the internet and the darker nature of the characters.

With a sublime script, fantastic performances, and a wonderfully nostalgic 90s soundtrack, Closer is much better on stage than on film. Its heightened dramatic tension and ambiguous characters suit the theatre better than the screen.  It is not a comfortable watch; there is plenty of strong language and scenes of a sexual nature.

Nonetheless, it is a fascinating portrayal of the complex psychology of relationships.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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