According to MATILDA WNEK, this play comes closer to five stars than anything else she’s seen in Cambridge.

Corpus Playrooms, 25th-29th January, 7pm, £5-6?

Directed by Natasha Moules

[rating: 4.5/5]

With The Tab’s new reviews twitter feed calling for real-time first impressions, I told the person sitting next to me as the lights went down at the start of Closer that the first thing he uttered was going live. When it came to it, though, the real response had to be a few moments of reflective silence.

In fact as the house lights went up the guy behind me turned to his neighbor to say, more helpfully, that it was the best thing he’d seen in Cambridge. I’m not sure about that, but it must be said that this was a very proficient piece: well directed, and at times very sensitively performed.

For those of you who haven’t seen the film, the story charts the movements of four lovers whose successive relationships are characterised by obsession, deceit, fantasy, and a lot of sex. It’s an everyone-has-a-turn-with-everyone type thing; one of those plots that inclines you to describe people’s lives as ‘paths’ or ‘twines’ so they can cross and intertwine. With a strong cast though, there was real distinction between dyads, to the credit of director Natasha Moules.

The standout performance was given by Emma Sidi, whose acting felt like the product of a genuinely considered study of Anna’s position. The narrative skips erratically through ‘episodes’ in these characters’ relationships with a kind of disordered mechanism, expertly evoked by starkly dysfunctional lighting. We are always grateful to see Anna, whose narrative thread (sorry) has been progressing offstage in the interim, and this is either the product of very hard work or enviable instinct.

Ben Blyth managed to find consistency in a character who on paper is difficult to conceptualise. He is a sexualized, misogynist obsessive, who at the start of the play claims our sympathy as the hapless overworked doctor who is the awkward victim of an on-line prank. Admittedly he has the help of Clive Owen’s precedent, but there were moments towards the end where he managed to depict the jarring conviction of a man who is aware of the grotesqueness of his impulses yet committed to realizing them. Very compelling viewing.

In a play with a cast of only four and a consciously repetitive format – we rarely see more than two people onstage at once – the interest had to be sustained by development in performances like this, and the only unsatisfying dyad was the one with neither Ben nor Emma.

While James Evans’ Dan evoked the discomfort of watching a weak man squirm in and out of his poetic moral code, he was conspicuously less engaged than the others: a few times he was required to express the desperation that all the characters go through at some point, and his own brand involved remaining rooted to the spot but leaning closer towards his object as a sort of proxy for emotional engagement. He didn’t even touch Anna while he implored her desperately to give him attention, and his lust for Alice was expressed through a few awkward strokes of her leg – I felt we’d been more intimate with her than he had.

And Charlotte Hamblin’s Alice was begging to be touched. With the combative sexuality of a deeply wounded ex-stripper, her eyes flashed at the men, daring them to love her. The challenge of combining this power with the vulnerability of her dependency was well met, though perhaps the alternate use of eye contact and aversion was overused and at times appeared essentially random.

The director had said that she wanted to capture the “almost mechanical inevitability” of the progression of this dysfunctional group, which was well pitched: there are few people in the audience who are completely unfamiliar with the plot. Moules capitalized on this, making the continuous rotation of characters feel like a “vicious game or a brutal experiment” with rapid scene changes that were half lit. Her task in production was to convey the unsettling disjunction between the isolated moments of these relationships, while her actors’ was to create a coherence and continuity that entitled them to our sympathy. It is this tension that makes Closer worth seeing.

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