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Performing arts in Hong Kong

Hong Kong production of Closer won’t have film’s ending, as actors talk about the challenges of getting into their roles

Sweet and Sour Productions’ play won’t turn out the same way the 2004 film starring Julia Roberts and Jude Law did, while the four actors talk about dealing with characters bent on deceit, emotional manipulation and betrayal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 6:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 11:12am

Closer is an award-winning play by British playwright Patrick Marber. It was first performed at the Royal National Theatre in London in 1997, but is probably best known for Mike Nichols’ 2004 film adaptation starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen.

Although Marber adapted his own play for the screen, Nichols’ film ends differently. For the version to be staged this week by Sweet and Sour Productions at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre’s Black Box venue in Sheung Wan, director Candice Moore says she has stuck to the original script.

“I read the play first and then saw the film,” she recalls. “We did scenes from it at drama school. It was a striking play. I think it’s very well written and it’s quite perceptive about the relationships that you go through at a certain stage in your life.”

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Set in 1990s London at the dawn of widespread access to the internet – an encounter in a sex chat room is pivotal to the plot – Closer is a four-hander exploring the relationships of two troubled couples who swap partners at various stages of the play.

Lust, deceit, emotional manipulation and betrayal are key themes, and although there are some funny lines, it is hard to imagine why London’s Evening Standard had it pegged as a comedy.

“Although it’s more than 20 years since it was written I still think it’s relevant,” Moore says. “We’ve brought it a bit up to date, but it’s quite a minimal play with not that many props, so it’s timeless in a way.”

Although Moore has directed Rob Archibald – who plays the role of Larry – in previous productions, she is working for the first time with the other three actors.

Bruno Lovric plays Dan, a journalist, who falls for Alice, a stripper, played by Rebecca Leung. He betrays her with a photographer, Anna, played by Kelley Quinn, who falls for Larry and then betrays him with Dan.

“I’ve had a confusing journey deconstructing the layers of Alice’s contradicting personality,” says Leung of her character, who turns out to be more complicated than she first appears. “I think that the hurt from her past relationships and unstable life experiences confirmed that operating under another persona is protective and makes her feel in control and worthy.”

Rob Archibald describes Larry as “an interesting challenge”.

“He’s a working class guy who’s done very well for himself by becoming a doctor, but he still upholds his working class values,” he says. “The writing is so good that his relationships with the other characters are universally identifiable.”

While Quinn says she enjoyed getting under Anna the photographer’s skin – “a well-developed and flawed character, as we all are in life” – Lovric says that empathising with Dan, a fickle and insubstantial charmer, was a struggle.

“Despite some excellent opportunities to give and to receive love, Dan remains on the lookout for the next thing without ever recognising what he has,” he says.

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Closer is very much an ensemble piece, and Moore says she is confident that she chose the right cast.

“They work very well together, and as well as having a lot of ideas for their characters, are very good at getting their lines down. There’s a certain amount of depth to the play, and I think they get that.”

We are warned that the play is suitable only for those aged over 16 and contains “smoking content and strong language”.

Closer, Sweet and Sour Productions, HKRep Black Box, 8/ F, Sheung Wan Civic Centre, 345 Queen’s Road Central. Mar 10, 11, 13, 14, 16 and 18 at 7.30pm; Mar 11 and 17 at 2.30pm. Tickets HK$290. Inquiries tel: 9131 3387.