Sparks fly softly and subtly in ‘Closer’
LiFE Creator’s ongoing production of Patrick Marber’s award-winning play simmers, not sizzles
Thanks to the internet and the subsequent digital disruption, time flies faster than before. In the year when people stop talking about newspaper headlines, #CLOSERbyLiFE was Thailand’s most trending when the Thai translation of this British play opened earlier this month.
The hype was partly due to the fact that Worakamon “Jeff” Satur, an actor portraying one of the three Dans, is one of the most sought-after now, thanks to the megahit TV series “KinnPorsche”.
Tickets for the cast Jeff’s in—there are three alternating ones—were all snapped up before the play opened and are now being scalped for his international die-hard fans. After the theatres had been either dark or socially distanced for more than two years, of course this kind of hype which suddenly brings the new audience to the theatre is necessary. Whether or how this unusual interest in contemporary Thai theatre will sustain is a different question.
I chose not to watch this cast and instead spent one Saturday’s afternoon and evening watching the other two.
With only four characters all with the similar number of lines and scenes, this compelling 12-scene dramatic tale of contemporary relationship with love, sex, lies, truths, deceit and so on is like an acting bout in 12 rounds—a WBC or IBF one, not “10 Fight 10”. In other words, all boxers need to be of the same weight range and have comparable experience in order for the fight to be fair, entertaining and unpredictable.
Thanks to the deft translation, a literary one not adaptation, by Bhanbhassa Dhubthien and Cholatep Na Bangchang, the Thai script of “Closer” captured the true spirit and was packed with all the jabs, hooks and uppercuts of the 1997 British play. The lines were all actable and colloquial, like the original, with very few mistakes, such as their decision to translate “Embankment”. However, we’re not reading but watching this play.
Credit to director Bhanbhassa’s arduous training of her actors, all were almost always realistic. Nevertheless, their stage presence, voice projection and emotional expression varied from one to another.
For example, both Sarinya Olsson, as strip dancer Alice, and Witsarut Himmarat, as writer Dan, were so soft, slow and subtle in the play’s first scene at the hospital that it’s like two boxers prancing around the ring trying not to hurt each other. Throughout the play, Witsarut’s performance frequently put me at the edge of my seat on the third row, not because I was thrilled but I could neither hear what he said nor felt his emotions. This cast was rescued, fortunately, by more seasoned actors Kwankaew Kantawet and Sasidwat Suthigasame who were effortless, always showing their joy in reliving their sophisticated roles—of respectively, photographer Anna and dermatologist Larry—for and creating this art in front of the audience. Their scenes together, of which I wished there had been more, were like Tyson versus Holyfield, without the ear biting of course.
In another cast some of whose scenes were slightly faster, stage veterans Nopphand Boonyai’s Dan and Peter Knight’s Larry were smooth and attractive although one may wish they had both delved deeper into the characters and showed us more of what we haven’t seen from them. Most surprising was former fashion model Rasee Diskul na Ayudya whose maturity and compassion in Anna could mostly match her more experienced scene partners’ punch-by-punch. Television actress and YouTuber Arachaporn Pokinpakorn was as charming as her screen personality but didn’t take enough risks in her portrayal of Alice, her most demanding role in the young career.
Perhaps the biggest setback was the pacing. Even though the Thai director quoted the British playwright’s remark that this play was a comedy, she didn’t quite stage it as such. The third scene in an internet chatroom, for instance, where Dan was tricking Larry into believing that he’s Anna is the play’s most hilarious scene, thanks to the situation we all can relate to, vulgar language and the dramatic irony. I can still recall laughing so much that my tears poured 24 years ago in a West End playhouse. Here it’s as if Bhanbhassa had her actors realistically type all actual letters on the computer keyboard before their chats appeared on the screen—the pace and comedy were sacrificed.
For many contemporary plays, such as in life, jokes first pull the audience into the world of the play then drama, or even tragedy, strikes and we couldn’t help but empathizing with the characters as we’re already there with them. That’s to say: the louder you laugh, the harder you cry.
Another drag was caused by scene changes during which masked stage crews crowded the stage bringing in and taking out set pieces, hand and set props. As efficient as they were, this was the standard practice—of the last century—which didn’t belong in this fight the energy of which needed to be sustained and the flow uninterrupted.
After the curtain call during which it was revealed that there’s the total of 18 dressers and backstage crew—quite possibly a record for “Closer” productions for which the playwright noted “All settings should be minimal”—, our experience ended with Jeff’s newly composed song with the same title. This was a very odd director’s choice to end a play especially for those who chose to watch one of the other two casts. With the same simmering mood and tone as this production, the song did nothing to the meaning of the play and in the end my 1998 West End memory of “Closer” remains intact as do my life lessons learned from it.
“Closer”, in Thai with English surtitles, continues at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts on the sixth floor of Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Building, Chulalongkorn University (10-minute walk from BTS Siam station, Exit 5; with discounted parking) until August 31. Tuesday to Friday at 7:30pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are Bt 950 (Bt 700 for students). The running time is 2 hours and 55 minutes (15-minute intermission included, the song not included). For more details, www.facebook.com/LiFETheatre.net or Line Official @lifecreatorcompany.
By Pawit Mahasarinand
Photo: Courtesy of LiFE Creator