Performed with insight and designed with vision, Mermaids’ production of Closer certainly had its effect on the audience. The uninformed viewer, like myself, was pulled magnetically into the cutting humour of Marber, executed with intelligence and timing by this four-person cast, and the set contributes a coldness to match the inability of the characters to achieve romantic fulfilment.
The first impression of what is to come derives from this unusual set: a duvet-less double bed positioned in the round, a coffee table beside it topped by a smattering of household objects, and, most strikingly, four television screens on a block hanging on chains from the rigging.
Such a minimalistic set necessitates challenges to be overcome and the audience’s disbelief must be willingly suspended as the bed transitions from a hospital room to a photographer’s studio to an aquarium. The desired effect is not immediate but as the audience warms up the set comes to life. It meets its triumph in the skin-crawling, dual-breakup scene that sees both couples fall apart on the same bed, a bed which is an all too common factor of both relationships. The presence of sex with the absence of complete intimacy in each is made delightfully disturbing on the over-crowded mattress.
Yet, as the audience spill out of the Barron theatre and disperse into the night there will be one scene mutual to all of their minds: that of Larry’s and Dan-posing-as-Anna’s internet sex. The dynamic combination of the laptops and the dangling screens portrayed the reality of online sex platforms in a brilliantly communicative way. The setting in the round lent itself very well to the scene with glimpses of the conversation popping up on each character’s laptop, triggering a glance upwards to the full majesty of the obscenities cast above our heads. Louis Wilson (Larry) and Bailey Fear (Dan) delivered the comedy of the scene with panache, topping the electricity of the scene off proficiently. I only wish that the screens had the same purpose throughout the whole play; an exciting display flashing up at the opening of the second half added a thrill to an already tantalising strip scene and yet was short-lived, as was the footage of some of the promotional graphics spotted later on.
As for the acting, each member of the cast brought a bit of flair to each role. Bailey Fear tempered the dopey romanticism of Dan well with his descent into misguided decisions and misplaced impulsiveness. Hannah Gilchrist executed an acute sense of the coy in Alice’s character while also giving us raw glimpses of the girl beneath the mask. Ellie Hope was steely and calculating as the quick-witted Anna, and despite falling in and out of love she displayed very cleanly the photographer’s ability to remain guarded and distant throughout the heartbreak. Louis Wilson as Larry was potentially the stand out performer, having the audience guffawing at his goofy flirtation one moment and quaking in their seats at his erratic outbursts in the next. The effect was that of a man lost and lonely between love and sex whose desperation for the latter and misdirection in the former became hauntingly evident in his heated confrontation with Alice in the strip club.
The tests of a fast-paced, fragmented script like Marber’s were evident at times with the dialogue becoming stilted and the actors slipping into a monotony of tone. However, these shortcomings were recompensed by the electricity of some of the play’s watershed moments.
Saturday night in the Barron theatre was an entertaining one, the audience was absorbed, the cast was animated, the set and tech was impressive and although in places I wanted more, I doubt anybody left the theatre feeling short-changed.