So close but yet so far

Closer (Stan Dup Ensemble)

Sometimes a show surprises you by surpassing your expectations. Other times, you know from the outset that you are in for an arduous experience. Unfortunately, despite the most aspiring of intentions, “Closer” falls into the latter category; the Holland Park Bowls Club venue, though full of character, was cold and the show had a last-minute starting time change. And then there was the production itself – all brutal, laboured 75(ish) minutes of it.

“Closer” is a familiar story (thanks to its 2004 Julia Roberts/Jude Law movie incantation), however, it is not an engaging one, as it tells the slice-of-life tale of four self-loathing and largely unlikeable people who believe that a good fight is never clean. Obituary writer Dan knocks down a young erotic dancer, Alice, in the street and accompanies her to the hospital. Time passes and he cannot decide between Alice his clingy, now-girlfriend or accomplished photographer, Anna. Anna herself is indecisive between Dan and controlling, callous doctor Larry. As time passes, the four characters collide in chance meetings and carnal attractions as their stories continue to the tragic and depressing conformation that we live as we dream – alone.

Although the central theme of truth is a universal one, “Closer” represents an ambitious text choice and it was always going to be a challenge to translate English playwright Patrick Marber’s corrosive look at sex and savagery in 1990s London, to a Brisbane audience.  And it is a challenge in which the Stan Dup Ensemble lacks conviction; the story’s UK setting is lazily maintained (mispronunciation of Thames for example). And attention to detail is similarly lacking within props: a prescription is ‘written’ on a blank piece of paper and online interaction occurs between two characters whose computers are not switched on.

Beyond its provocative themes, this is a story of relationships, as its characters all search for love but can’t seem to get closer. And the challenge is certainly to make audience members care enough to become invested in these characters who seem so hell-bent on hurting one another. With youthful vigour, everyone on stage tries hard (too hard in the case of Larry and Alice) and I was trying hard to care about the characters, but I just couldn’t. The performances are full of tearful confessions and angry interrogations (at one point competing to be heard over the scene’s music), but there is nothing of substance underneath.

While much of the story’s conflict is melodramatic, there are some welcome comic moments. Unfortunately, they sometimes fall flat, to the point that the only laughs seem to be coming from the show’s technical crew. When Dan plays a massive comedic trick on Larry, it is presented as an act of malice, full of confronting language and brutal, graphic sexually-explicit descriptions. Indeed, there is frequent coarse language throughout the work, as questions of morality are raised, which will be confronting for some.

In its cynical examination of modern relationships, “Closer” is a piece of theatre with much potential to show the beauty of ugliness. Unfortunately, in this instance, it is a case of so close, but yet, so far.

You can find all of my Anywhere Theatre Festival reviews on the Festival website.

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