Pander 8 (July 1999)
Closer, by Patrick Marber, directed by Simon Prast, designed by Dorita Hannah – with Marton Csokas, Sophia Hawthorne, Theresa Healey, Jeffrey Thomas – ATC, Maidment Theatre, 17 Feb-20 March.
Patrick Marber: Closer
Woody Allen’s film Bullets over Broadway frames a twenties problem play (part-Ibsen, part-Eugene O’Neill) entitled The Sins of the Fathers. A man leaves his wife for a younger woman, who then leaves him for a young lieutenant, who ends up having an affair with the wife – at least, that’s what one gathers the plot is about through the numerous revisions, rewrites and rethinks which occupy most of the movie.
For The Sins of the Fathers read Closer. True, the jazz age props (machine guns, flappers, flivvers) have been replaced with contemporary London strip-clubs, hospitals, and aquariums, but we have a younger man who takes up with a younger woman, and then an older woman, who gets married to an older man, then leaves him for the younger man, who is shocked to learn that the younger woman has been seeing the older man, etc. etc. The scenes are constructed with a geometrical precision (younger man + younger woman; older man + younger woman; older woman + younger man) which leave one longing for the easy fluidity and psychological insight of a typical episode of Coronation Street. The characters say “Fuck” a lot.
To be honest, I don’t quite get the point. There’s no economic axis in the play. The four personages have professions (doctor, journalist, photographer, stripper) but none of these cause them any particular anxiety, or seem to influence their behaviour significantly. No Naked or Shopping and Fucking insights here. They all fall in love with ridiculous ease, and always within the charmed circle of four (another soap opera trick). The name that sprang to mind was Peyton Place (or Melrose Place, for that matter)
The sets were nice: elegant and economical (alas, that recalls another twenties diatribe. Thomas Wolfe in Of Time and the River denouncing people who praise plays for the sets: “Did you ever hear such damned stuff since the world began?”). The actors looked a little shell-shocked at the end, as if they were somewhat surprised to be greeted with applause. Marton Csokas found little scope for his usual aggressive stage presence, Sophia Hawthorne looked much too bouncy and lively for the doomed waif who (I presume) was the original idea of the character. Good on her. Theresa Healey played a very plausible older woman, while Jeffrey Thomas poured huge energy into a bland and featureless role.
Four characters in search of an author? I’m racking my brains to think of anything else that’s nice to say about the play. It was so boring. As they drearily went through the umpteenth soul-searching I began to wonder if life really was as Patrick Marber portrays it: tedious, self-possessed characters going on about themselves and their motives with a depth and circumstantial precision which makes the characters in Whit Stillman’s “Doomed Bourgeois in Love” trilogy look like healthy extroverts.
The Woody Allen film is funny precisely because we don’t have to sit through the play it portrays. Unframed, we laugh at it, not with it.