“Patrick Marber’s Closer” (LIFE Theatre, Bangkok, 2022) A Theatrical Review
Some thoughts about Patrick Marber
“I love to write about nasty characters because they are fun to write about.” Says Patrick Marber in his master class at the London Film School in 2019. He is a friend of Jonathan, the Head of the Screenwriting program at the school. This Oxford grad read English literature so well that they understand British society enough to criticize it for earning a living. When talking about Closer, he told us an exciting story. “Mike Nichols wanted Julia Robert as his first choice. Jude Law’s name comes up whenever asking who should play Dan. (I don’t remember what he said about Natalie Portman.) Clive Owens was already Marber’s favorite actor.”
“I always write on commission,” answered Marber when he was asked about his writing style. Marber’s style combines classic tragedy, classic comedy, and melodrama. Though Closer would appeal to many as a rom-com of a sort. His style is original and intense. We would want to cry at one time and laugh at another second. It is difficult to classify what genre to which his writing belongs. Though he says, “I am lucky never having to pitch my writing to anyone. People hire me to write because they like my writing. There were many times though that I returned them money after two or three days of receiving it because I realized I couldn’t complete the project.” He is lucky, indeed.
Seeing Patrick Marber in the flesh, I found him a walking Closer script. He is funny and warm, and he described himself “narcissist.” I like his honesty and nonchalance. He loves to cross his arms where his shoulders shrug and his head lean forward to the front space of his body like sinking in thoughts. It is impressive to see a person being comfortable criticizing himself. It makes him a very fascinating character. We never know when he will give the pun again. I think the same quality makes Closer an amusing play. This memory came up during an intermission of Closer by LIFE Theatre in Bangkok. It came when I went to the washroom and thought it was boring. I tried to imagine how the play should be.
Closer by LIFE Theatre 2022
I saw the last show of Patrick Marber’s Closer by LIFE Theatre in Bangkok. Even “Closer” is the play’s name. It made me feel distant. As the play hurled forward, I found myself far and far from the play, mentally absent from the theatre. My mind floated far away. Same as one actor on the stage who failed to react when his partner accidentally dropped a glass of water before the audience. He seemed absented mind.
It is a story about Dan, a writer, who helps getting injured Alice to see doctor Larry. Dan flirts with Alice. And then, Anna intervenes in the story. It is not difficult to speculate that these four characters will forge relationships with each other. They sleep, lie to each other, harm, get jealous, and get revenge on each other. Closer explores how and what love and sex can do to our lives.
But Marber presents it through the context of British society. The geography of the setting and the theatre where it is performed differ. The play’s tradition and the technique actors deploy are much different, too. They are the main obstacles that thwart Closer from getting close enough to Thai lives. It is hard to translate the script to match Thai culture. Thus it is difficult for actors to act and the audience to comprehend. It is odd to talk about sliced bread and red or green apple in a place where people eat rice with Pad-Ka-Prao. When the actor delivers the line about Heathrow airport, it is different when they speak it in a theatre in London or New York from when they say it in a theatre in Bangkok. It can sound perfect in one place, but it can sound odd in another.
Having said that, the play is very British. It is heavily text-based. Dealing with meticulous writing is not one of Thai actors’ strong suits. They are not readily equipped to deal with the audience, which requires vocal stamina, and other techniques. It takes time to build up those capabilities. When we talk about Thai acting tradition, we are talking about memorizing lines, preparing emotions required for the scene, and getting in front of a camera.
Many places in the play are written by borrowing from the classic comedy. The actor needs to shift emotion quickly to suit the change between the lines. The actor must seamlessly change it in a few seconds. It is complicated, and actors often fail to do it. Hence, the performance was not smooth. The audience was baffled as a result. There are too many challenges that these actors have to overcome. I wish they could enjoy being nasty more. Just tease each other and have fun in the space. Just be malicious because it’s fun, like Marber said. Though Larry and Alice could make me want to watch sometime, I think actors’ politeness is the show’s disease. And what is the remedy? Is it being nasty so that the writing can work? Or is it to alter all the play’s elements and tailor them to suit our culture?