Wednesday, July 27, 2011



Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at The Old Court


Patrick Marber's intense four-hander is impressively played in this high-octane production directed by Joe Kennedy.

The shorter story
No love, no glory
No hero in her sky

It's a high profile piece – National Theatre, must-see movie – so most people will know it's an unblinking look at painfully untidy relationships, a challenging, edgy La Ronde de nos jours. Often too close for comfort.

Hunky dermatologist Larry [Philip Hart] meets Dan and Alice in A&E, and from then on the manipulative, selfish stories unfold and interweave, in a narrative deliberately disorientating.

The ensemble is well balanced and impressively at home in this naturalistic style. Except that it's not really natural at all. Lack of restraint is seen as a sign of maturity, but these are the chats, the fights, the soul-searchings we would have if we were only more articulate, if only we'd thought of it at the time …

It's a lot to ask; the other characters are a stripper, a portrait photographer, and a writer stuck in the “Siberia of journalism, the obits page”. I was most impressed by Leanne Johnson's Alice, embodying “the moronic beauty of youth”, seemingly confident in her own charisma, but just as vulnerable, and just as vicious, as the others. Harry Sabbarton is the writer whose book “borrows” her life, excellent in his proposal of marriage, and on opening night we saw Anna played by Vikki Pead. She inhabited the specialist in “sad strangers” with a cocky assurance, but was often very funny, as in the wonderful “baggage” image, pinning down a key difference between the sexes:

"This is what we’re dealing with; we arrive with our baggage and for a while they’re brilliant, they’re baggage handlers. We say, ‘Where’s your baggage?’ They deny all knowledge of it. They’re in love, they have none. Then just as you’re relaxing, a great big juggernaut arrives … with their baggage. It got held up. The greatest myth men have about women is that we overpack."

The show runs till August the 6th – in that closing performance, and three others, the role of Anna will be played by Kelly McGibney, in what I am told is completely different version of the play ...

The minimal setting, merely suggesting Bart's, Postman's Park, was very effective - I liked the way confrontations were often played against black and white.

The slightly forced wit of the opening promised much, and if some scenes, though striking, were over long – cyber sex, pole dancing – and the formulaic delivery sometimes made the text seem pretentious, “Closer” was nonetheless a superbly interpreted exploration of rage and sadness, sex and lies, shot through with desperate green-eyed prurience.

Catching the show again at its last performance, I found it had acquired more muscle, and more tears, during its run, and the set pieces were even stronger [the deception quartet, the three-way divorce dialogue, the aquarium farce, enhanced – presumably for one night only – by Philip “I'm a doctor” Hart having a little trouble whipping out his bloom].
Kelly McGibney was impressive as the photographer who specialises in strangers, using a meaningful glance or a well-placed inflection to make her points. Her early confrontation with Alice, punctuated by the click of the shutter, was masterly. Her performance did, as we'd been promised, change much of the dynamic of the piece, though it's not just diplomacy that makes it impossible for me to join those who “preferred” one or other of the Annas … Certainly Alice and Anna sounded more alike this time, bringing an extra layer of significance perhaps, and making Dan's Fleet River error the more understandable.

Jim Hutchon was at the opening night - this is his Weekly News review:

This is an amoral play where subtle variations on the theme of two couples coupling are drawn out in front of a superbly minimal set and evocative music. Joe Kennedy’s direction is precise and light-handed, allowing four excellent actors to bring the abstract character sketches to life, while maintaining some hold over the logic of events and fractured timescales. It is a very modern play where they all think they crave love, but mistake it for naked lust which permeates the stage and language throughout.

Harry Sabbarton, who has a superb line in hang-dog expressions, is very convincing as Dan, a journalist/writer who falls for a girl he takes to hospital after an accident. Leanne Johnson plays Alice, the injured girl who admits she is a stripper, but skilfully walks a tightrope between the character’s perverse and conflicting attitudes to sex and morality. (Her expert pole-dancing sequence is worth the admission price alone).

While photographing Dan for his forthcoming book, Anna, played with immaculate attention to detail and fine timing by Vicki Pead, is propositioned by Dan and, in the fullness of time, capitulates. Played with confusion then passion by Philip Hart, Larry the doctor is introduced via almost Shakespearian trickery into the gang, and soon the four are into the familiar revolving door mode.

What is most refreshing about the production is the sheer commitment, energy and passion of the actors, which makes this a (rather lengthy) evening of pure drama. 

poster image: Joe Kennedy, James Sabbarton and Emma Moriaty
Postman's Park memorial photo: Leanne Johnson

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After witnessing both versions of this production. I can see why the director choose 2 very different actresses for the role of "Anna".
The reactions from the three remaining cast members altered dependant on who was playing her. Thats not to say one way was better than the other. But interesting as an avid theatre goer.
I have to commend Leanne in particular for maintaining her accent throughout. (All tho I hate her a little because of her beautiful body.) I thought it would show that a British actress was doing an American accent when performing next to Kelly McGibney (who was breath taking, particulary at the end of the first act.) but if I didn't know better you would think she actually was american herself!
CTW has been critised for the female roles over the past few years and I hope this shows people that this company has some brilliant male AND females actors!
I look forward to the new season.
Cecila Armstruther.

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