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by on 20 February 2019

Newton’s Cradle and Interconnecting Relationships


by Patrick Marber

Putney Theatre Company, at Putney Arts Theatre until 23rd February

A Review by Celia Bard

First successfully performed at the Royal National Theatre in May 1997 the play Closer continues to play to receptive audiences, bearing out the idiom by Woody Allen that “Sex without love is an empty experience, but as empty experiences go it’s one of the best!” The four characters in this play, Alice and Anna and Dan and Larry, in their pursuit of love lead each other a merry dance of sex and infidelity, but their quest is founded on deception and lies which ultimately leads to pain and disillusionment. The theme is as old as the hills but in the hands of Patrick Marber it remains as fresh and pertinent as ever.


The play consists of twelve scenes where events play out over hours, days, months, years. Innovative use of video images, including shots of The London Aquarium, an Art Gallery, Postman’s Park, and some carefully selected pieces of furniture provide easily recognisable settings. The audience is never left in doubt as to where the action is taking place, leaving audience members free to focus on the cleverly constructed dialogue, which is both witty and poignant, and on the characters’ brutal and tense relationships. An ingenuous prop is the use of a Newton’s Cradle. The continuous backwards and forwards force of the swinging spheres symbolise the dramatic tension between the characters, wonderfully realised by both director and actors.


The first scene opens in a hospital waiting room. Alice, a club stripper, nursing a minor injury meets Dan, a newspaper obituarist and would be novelist, whom he helps and quite soon afterwards goes to bed with. The other two characters in the play are Larry, a dermatologist, who meets Anna, a photographer, in The London Aquarium. They too go to bed. Dan then meets Anna when he is having his portrait taking for his new book. Sexually drawn to her, he eventually succeeds in persuading her too to go to bed with him. Larry finds out about the affair and goes to bed with Alice whom he meets in a strip cub. This merry go round of sexual encounters and splitting up exacerbate emotional wounds. The title of the play, Closer, becomes irony as the scenes we see and don’t see make it clear that the couples do not become closer, even at their most intimate moments. Although each of them embarks on a quest for true love, their search is fruitless. The men cannot commit, and the women want something that their partners as lovers cannot provide.


Closer-3856-XLGrace Cullen brilliantly portrays the character of Alice, needy, vulnerable, sexually alluring, and feisty. Her vulnerability shows through in her facial expression during a photographic session with Anna when she instinctively realises that Dan is going to stray. This actor is able to exactly replicate her character’s wistful facial expression in the photograph later on display at Anna’s photographic exhibition. The scene with Larry in the striptease club is wonderfully played out. Grace’s physicality is impressive. Her movement is sexy, but not seedy nor offensive: throughout she manages to convey an innocence and vulnerability, which maintains audience sympathy. Her character’s façade disappears in the final scene when Dan who, on having learned the truth about the question mark etched on her leg, questions her about it. Rather than face up to the brutal truth of her insecurity and destroying the fiction of the persona she so carefully maintains, she sharply ends her relationship with Dan. Alice is a complex character and Grace Cullen exploits this to the full.


Closer-3744-XLIn contrast Anna, skilfully played by Olivia Nita is a very different character. Sexually attractive, older, sophisticated, a talented photographer, appears not to be needy, but she has an Achilles’ heel. She practises deception, which she cannot maintain when challenged, she cannot lie. In many ways Anna is a victim of her own sexuality and she is easily manipulated. She feels guilt about betraying the three other characters, but her feelings of guilt do not override any moral consideration. The beautifully directed scene in the restaurant when the audience sees her in different time zones with both Dan and Larry highlights the extraordinary and painful situation in which she frequently finds herself. This scene requires careful timing which this actor handles expertly.


Closer-4046-XLThe two men, Dan and Larry, superbly acted by Tim Duthrane and Jerome Joseph Kennedy do not display the same sensibilities. They appear to be driven by certain Alpha Male negative characteristics, displaying confidence and dominance in pursuit of women and being possessive and jealous. Dan, as realised by Tim Duthrane, is manipulative and mischievous as revealed in the computer chat room. He of all the characters swings the most, backwards and forwards, in his quest for sexual desire. In Larry’s office, Dan appears wearing glasses. Although this indicates failing eyesight the spectacles also symbolise his lack of insight regarding women: his relationships with women are only skin deep. Larry on the other hand is driven by feelings of revenge. This same encounter with Dan in his office, earlier in the strip club scene with Alice, and then in the restaurant, acutely reveals this trait of personality. He is not going to forgive Dan for robbing him and sleeping with Anna, he sleeps with Alice as revenge and he forces Anna to have sex with him again before signing the divorce certificate. The male characters in Closer are not depicted sympathetically by the writer. Both actors, however, play their parts with such a lightness of touch, incredible believability, and an ability to hold and engage the audience by varying the way they portray their characters on stage that you never become bored or irritated by them.


For all four characters love, friendship and genitals are explosive ingredients of items that go to make up affairs of the heart, which as Larry puts it is “wrapped in a bloody fist.” This brutal, hard-hitting, interesting, and thought-provoking play, cleverly directed by Jeff Graves, superbly acted by the four actors, and supported by an imaginative and skilful technical design team make this a memorable production, one that is not easily forgotten.

Celia Bard
February 2019

Photography by Rich Evans

  1. Tim Duthrane permalink

    Dear Celia,
    Thank you for your brilliant and insightful review. Great feedback for us! Would it be possible to change the typo on my name? Althought Dethrone is very appropriate to Dan’s journey my name is slightly different – Duthrane. Regardless of whether you can change it now, it is much appreciated.
    Best wishes,

    • Hello Tim
      Our apologies for the misspelt surname. However appropriate, it is galling I know. As editor, I have now corrected it. Congratulations on a show that clearly impressed Celia. Kindest regards Keith Wait for Mark Aspen Reviews.

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