Theatre review: ‘Closer’ starring Eku Edewor & Kalu Ikeagwu is a sexual tale without the sex

by Wilfred Okiche

closer

 

The obvious template for this stage adaptation of ‘Closer’, Patrick Marber’s prize winning play –which premiered on 27, December 2012 at the Intercontinental hotel, Lagos- is the 2004 movie starring Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen. The posters, sporting headshots of the 4-man cast as well as the choice of actors for this take on modern day heterosexual relationships could not be more derivative of the Mike Nichols directed film.

There is Kalu Ikeagwu as the explosive doctor Larry; huffing and puffing his way through every scene and doing a fine if slightly pale imitation of Clive Owen’s Oscar-nominated turn. There is Ochuko Oke’s man-child Dan, whinning and conniving and bearing a physical resemblance to Jude Law. Eku Edewor’s plays Alice who is flirty and immune to assuming any form of responsibility. If you look hard and liberally enough, you could convince yourself that she is the same as the Alice embodied by Natalie Portman even if the physical resemblance is lacking. Bikiya Graham-Douglas is the only divergent here. Her Anna is the same character Marber wrote but she gives it her own take, moving slightly away from Julia Roberts cold, distant cruelty.

‘Closer’ is a modern take of young love –and lust- in the big city. In this case, Lagos substitutes for London and New York and our 4 leads, meet, fall in and out of love (or lust) and then proceed to take turns tearing each other’s emotional core to shreds, stabbing and ripping, until there is nothing left.

It opens with Dan (Oke), a failing writer relegated to penning obituaries for his paper. He meets a strikingly beautiful young lady Alice (Edewor) who has suffered a bruise on the leg. They visit the hospital, strike up a conversation and before long are seeing each other. Dan finds in her a sort of muse and publishes his first book, complete with bad title. He meets Anna (Graham-Douglas) a photographer, they flirt and are interrupted by Alice. Anna takes Alice’s picture. Eku Edewor curses.

Anna and Dan commence an affair. They both fess up to their partners after some time, relationships are ended. It matters little though as Dan soon hooks up with Alice and they begin a torrid affair. Then Anna is back with Dan (or is she?) and Alice and Larry are in love again (or are they?)

The thing is, most of the actual cheating in ‘Closer’ is done off stage. A sexual tale without the sex- or nudity, it flourishes with the words, shocking the audience with the care free vulgarity. Certainly not for children, there is Edewor stripping for a private audience, Ikeagwu demanding she spread her legs for him, Graham-Douglas narrating the graphic details of a sexual encounter and Oke typing out obscenities in a chat room. Everybody is having a gay old time cheating, lying, confessing.

But the sexual tension may be chilling to those not accustomed to Marbers play and such people might find the whole experience off putting, unnecessary even. Distant certainly. ‘Closer’ is not your feel good play of the year and is only content with laying bare the stark instincts that afflict us as human beings. That no one is guilty, everyone cheats and maybe it is not that big a deal after all. Maybe love indeed is overrated.

This production, directed by Najita Dede had it’s flaws. The first was the venue. The ball room of the  Intercontinental was not exactly built to host stage plays. Anyone who wasn’t seated in the front lines (the vip and vvip) tables had to strain to follow up with the proceedings. But that is hardly the fault of the producers.The play itself (on the premiere night) began about 2hours late and dragged on till the final hour of the night. Shaving off 30-45minutes would have done everyone a world of good. Sound issues crept up here and there and the use of contemporary pop songs (‘Say something’) may have been too simplistic.

Thankfully the play itself had it’s highlights. Superbly written, with words cutting like knives as the characters torment themselves on stage. Almost every scene has it’s take away line. The characters may be distant and unlikeable, but one is likely to spot a bit of themselves somewhere if one looks hard enough.

The acting especially by Bikiya Graham-Douglas and Ochuko Oke are top notch. Graham Douglas in particular impresses as she grounds her Alice in a place that isnt quite as haughty or mean as she could have been, yielding the slightest bit of sympathy for her. Larry is perhaps the most selfish of the quartet and it is not clear here why both women would fall for him but Oke employs some of his good looks to score some goodwill. Dan naturally has the sharpest lines and wittest comebacks and Mr Ikeagwu plays it with relish, enjoying himself in a big caricature of a performance.

Eku Edewor manages to make child’s play of playing the part of Alice and she uses her feminine wiles to get by. As the pivotal final scene proved, Alice is the most complex character of the lot and carries on the biggest deception, for the longest time and in Miss Edewor’s hands, she does this in a breezy, easy way complementing the character with her stunning looks.

She also manages a gamely strip tease and succeeds in pulling off the physicalities of her role.

‘Closer’ is an important play and it’s goals of starting a conversation as opposed to teaching a lesson are even more so but it is hard to see the production, adapted as it is, almost faithfully from Marber’s play catch on around here. Perhaps with a little more naturalization.

 

The writer tweets from @drwill20

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