Closer: a play in a great venue that I sat in my seat willing to be good. But unfortunately, one that has still a way to go before we can get too excited.
Hearing of the genesis of Stones, a theatre company set up by two impressive third-years at Brookes looking to go into the industry, I was greatly enthused: it’s great to see students taking it upon themselves to make projects happen outside of university. The choice of Patrick Marber’s Closer was undoubtedly ambitious, a curious play that revolves around the private lives of Larry (Alex Cornelius) Alice (Audrina Oakes), Anna (Tori Perriss) and Dan (Nick Long) as they weave in and out of each other’s lives – a perfect fit for the basement of Modern Art Oxford.
Director Olivia Stone dealt with some of the play’s themes sensitively. An opening sequence worked well to introduce the four characters; in a physical montage set to music each stood before a projection of their photo. Closer seeks to explore the nature of photography and how far photographs can be taken as a representation of real-life, so this was a welcome starting point.
It was a shame that such moments of interaction between actor and projection were not used more often, because when they were I began to see real potential. A particularly gruesome section occurs when Oakes’ face is layered over Perriss’ on the projection, a stark visual representation of the adulterous web the pair find themselves at the centre of. The kind of doubling Stone achieves with projection, allowing a single actor to embody ‘two faces at once’, lies at the crux of Marber’s play: central themes are the coexistence of love and lust, so-called ‘moral rape’ and the strange vs. the familiar. The effort to distil some of these themes into a list gives an idea of the difficulty of the play. Perhaps the fact that Stones Theatre Co. didn’t entirely pull it off can, thus, be forgiven.
Fundamentally, I didn’t feel the company believed in the text. I can hardly blame them – this is a play that aims at realism but the very fact of the four characters’ meeting, and the intensely forward way they interact as strangers, are not recognisable as real-life. I think an injection of energy and greater trust between the four actors could have helped: I wanted them to push the boundaries of comfortability. The play seeks to put its audience in the position of fly-on-the-wall to four intimate relationships, but this version was not bold enough in that.
In terms of performance, Perriss stands out marginally. This could be down to maturity, or perhaps Oakes faced a harder job in the role of Alice. Either way, when Perriss spent a scene sat between Cornelius and Long I felt comfortable in her ability alone. I saw no real character development in either man, whose anger seems to come from nowhere: in a single word they switched from ordinary speaking level to shouts and then back down again. I am undecided about Oakes: her pathetic style suited the desperate Alice, but again I felt it lacked progression. I was also disappointed to see that one of the most climactic moments between Oakes and Stone was staged on the floor at the front of the stage, and therefore only visible to the front row. This could be fixed frustratingly easily by a mere move upstage.
I recommend seeing this play to support it as a creative endeavour; but Closer needed a push further to realise its full potential as an intimate piece of theatre.