Our theatre editor, Sarah Crawford, offers her perspective on the recent Mermaids’ production of Closer.
The appeal of a play like Closer, which reveals itself through a series of snapshots across a few years in the characters’ lives, heavily relies on the subtle tensions that build within the relationships as the show progresses. The director’s decision to stage the production in-the-round did well in highlighting this aspect, placing the audience directly into the action. Dynamic and interesting, seeing this production made me keen to see further attempts at central staging by Mermaids. Jonusas also made a bold decision in placing the bed at centre stage, which, in The Barron, is a relatively small area. For the most part, I felt this was done successfully, as well as it could have been done in such a restricted space, but there were times when I felt the performances were ‘cut-off’ by the set, particularly in the more argumentative scenes.
Closer also advertised an integration of technology, collaborating with the St. Andrews Film Making Society. The four screens, which were suspended from the ceiling, were very effective in the messaging scene between Dan (Bailey Fear) and Larry (Louis Wilson). However, I felt that the screens weren’t well incorporated outside of that scene, and that much more could have been done to involve them in the production. Additionally, there were times I didn’t notice anything was happening on the screens because they were outside my line of vision.
However, no matter the set, ultimately the progression of the tensions within a play, and the reception to of the play itself, are dependent on the actors’ performances, their abilities and their chemistry. They achieved this with varying degrees of success. I had never seen Ellie Hope in a St. Andrews production before, but her performance as Anna was easily my favourite in this play, from the moment she stepped onto the stage. I felt she well-understood her character, and that her portrayal of Anna was convincing and realistic. I might have liked to have seen more vulnerability from her at times, but as Anna is a very closed-off character, I understood its absence. Fear also deserves applause for his portrayal of Dan. Though I felt there were times where he could have been angrier, crueler, almost, particularly in the final fight scene between Dan and Alice, I enjoyed his performance and, having seen him in a few other productions, think he is a very talented actor. Scenes between Hope and Fear’s characters were the most captivating, I felt, though sparse.
I found the performances of the other two actors to be less compelling in comparison. For Alice, played by Hannah Gilchrist, I can’t say whether the failure to reach the character’s full potential was more the part of the actress or the direction she was given. As the youngest character in the play, the other characters tend to view Alice as naïve and needing to be taken care of. Unfortunately, I felt that this naivete was confused with innocence in Gilchrist’s performance. Alice is an experienced stripper, albeit a young one, who can fend for herself; in this production, she often came across as flirty and vulnerable. I would have liked to have seen the darker, more knowing, and deliberately manipulative (after all, as we know, Alice lies) side of her character. This contrast between youth and experience would have made for a more dynamic performance and realistic character. As it was, I found it difficult to buy Alice’s assertion that she’s ‘the one who leaves’.
My review of Louis Wilson’s performance as Larry might controversial. The other three published reviews of this production have all referred to Wilson as being the ‘standout’ performer. In contrast, I felt his performance was the weakest. Throughout the play there were a few references to Larry’s age, and, as a dermatologist, his character seemed to be intended to be the oldest. In this production, however, Larry seemed to act the youngest. Rather than an older, somewhat desperate and creepy man, Larry came across as being a misguided young man with a temper. I felt that Wilson’s eagerness to play into humour at times for laughs also hurt his performance. Of all the characters, Larry should have been the most recognisable. I have met Larrys, the men who view themselves as the ‘nice guys’ of the world, as I’m sure we all have. Wilson’s Larry felt more harmlessly pathetic than dangerously righteous. I was never scared of what he might do next – and I felt I should have been, particularly in the strip club scene with Alice.
As a whole, I feel like this production of Closer could have taken more risks than it did; the tensions, while present, never seemed push themselves to a breaking point. One reviewer wrote that there is a danger of Closer becoming a ‘watered down porno’. I disagree. Closer is a play with scenes that occur just before sex, or just after sex, or in argument about sex, and I felt this production shied away from that. This was most apparent to me in the scene between Alice and Larry that I mentioned. That being said, while I realise this review might seem negative (the result of my trying to critique what was left uncritiqued in other reviews), I really did enjoy watching this play. Jonusas’ blocking and direction was new and engaging, and I hope to see more productions by him in the future.
Rating: Four stars.
Author’s note: After getting a response to this article, I thought I might address a few things. I’d like to clarify that I didn’t intend to criticise Gilchrist or Wilson’s talent as actors, but to disagree with the interpretation of their characters, which I feel does not rest solely on the them, but on their direction as well. I acknowledge that this is student theatre and I didn’t mean for my review to come across as unnecessarily harsh; I assure you that I do not want to hurt or discourage anyone from being involved with theatre at St. Andrews. I apologise if it came across that way. I would encourage anyone, including those involved in the production, to get in touch with me if they were upset by or disagree with my article. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to talk to you. I think it’s important to have conversations about this sort of thing, especially in a town as small as ours. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.