Anyone interested in how the English express their sexuality will be fascinated by this well acted and directed play. “Closer” was written by English playwright Patrick Marber and was directed by him when it premiered at the Royal National Theatre’s Cottesloe Theatre in 1997 and on Broadway in 1999. It has won many awards.

The play presents a sliding doors view of the world, toying with the idea of how random events bring people together and how they interact over time to build and destroy their lives.

There are no victims in this play. The characters willingly destroy themselves. Or, as is fashionable to say these days, they reconstruct themselves through their sexuality to grow into the people they are meant to be.

Larry is meant to be a successful doctor with a quiet compliant wife. Dan is meant to explore fascinating worlds of the living with which to people his fiction. Anna is meant to find peace through beauty in the visual world and Alice is meant to experience life at its rawest.

The play, over time and spaces, shows some of the steps they take to get there. It’s a play where the idea of “being in love with” drives out commitment or connection. It’s hard to see how it translates into another culture, despite it being translated into over thirty languages.

For example, the film adaptation, “Closer’, a dramatic romance, was released in 2004, starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen and, like most American movies, it presented a sanitised version of the play. The script used in the La Boite production contains a scene omitted in the movie.

The language in “Closer” is exquisite, as is to be expected from a playwright touted as “the new Shakesphere”.

The La Boite production offers the audience an education in when to tell the truth and when to stay stum. But does it translate to 21st century Brisbane? The European treatment of and respect for women is quite different to that experienced by Brisbane women. The agency attributed to Anna and Alice could not be safely assumed to be exercised in Brisbane.

And men? The subtleties of hierarchy climbing in England are irrelevant to the raw, clawing battles of Brisbane’s men.  While the animal sexuality of English and Brisbane men may be similar, the absence of swearing and the scenes in galleries and an aquarium at a zoo make this play look genteel. But it’s not.

“Closer” at La Boite is beautifully acted. It maintains the illusion from start to finish. While the false accents are a little distracting, each of the four actors excels in their storytelling. We catch a glimpse of four very different English lives.

Jagera man, Colin W. Smith, maintains the tension between Larry’s private and public lives. That we don’t question Larry’s fitness to practise medicine says a lot about the actor’s ability to convey complex and competing motivations within one character whose lust drives his private decisions.

Coorparoo’s Anna McGahan’s portrayal as Anna, whose profession is pivotal to the play, cooly maintains a quiet commitment to truth throughout. The audience clapped when, towards the end of the play, she reveals where she has taken her private life.

Brisbane lawyer from the Virgin Islands, Sophia Emberson-Bain, owns her character, Alice. She brings a real gaiety to the role while lightly retaining the underlying betrayal she plays out in both her public and private lives. And paradoxically, she is the only character who is honest in each of her relationships.

Scottish / Brisbane man Kevin Spink inhabits Dan’s experience of being a journalist. Dan’s cynicism is kept veiled over his desire for love throughout until the two versions of himself merge in the final dialogue with Larry who declares himself the winner, proving himself committed to the hierarchy above any sense or urge for happiness. Very English!

This is a play about good people behaving badly. So be prepared to see yourself in one or other of the characters.

Courtney Stewart’s light touch as director has enabled the actor’s to bring freshness to this cult classic. The costumes, set, lighting and sound were all seamless, thanks to the work of M’ck Mokeaque, Glenn Hughes and Wil Hughes.

I would have loved to have seen this play adapted to speak for a Brisbane audience. One of the many wonderful Brisbane playwrights might like to contact Patrick Marber and take up this challenge.

On at La Boite until 20th April 2024. Book here:


Kerry McGovern