Closer (play): Wikis


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Grove edition
Written by Patrick Marber
Characters Dan, Alice(Jane Jones), Anna, Larry
Date premiered 22 May 1997
Place premiered Cottesloe Theatre
Original language English
Subject A quartet of strangers in a sexual square dance in which partners are constantly swapped, caught between desire and betrayal.
Genre Drama, Melodrama
Setting London, 1990's
IBDB profile

Closer is the third play written by English playwright Patrick Marber. The play was premiered at the Royal National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in London in 1997, and made its North American debut at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway on 25 January 1999.



Closer was first performed at the Royal National Theatre in London 22nd of May, 1997; it was the third play written by Patrick Marber. Closer has drawn comparisons with Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and Les Liaisons Dangereuses in its intricate focus on the politics of four people trading partners for lust.[1]

Plot synopsis

A young man, Dan, takes a young woman to the hospital after she has been hit by a taxi; they flirt as they wait for the doctor to attend to her bloodied knee. Larry, a doctor in dermatology, inspects her leg briefly and leaves. Dan and the young woman introduce themselves—he is Daniel Woolf, an obituary writer and failed author who teaches her about the use of euphemisms—his is “reserved,” hers, “disarming.” She is Alice Ayres, a self-described waif who has a mysterious scar along her leg. Wanting him to spend the rest of the day with her, she calls his editor for him to ask for the day off.

More than a year later, Dan is on the verge of publishing a book based on Alice’s past as a stripper, and Anna is taking his photograph for publicity. Dan falls in love with Anna, though he is in a relationship with Alice, having left his former girlfriend for her. He begs Anna to see him again, and she rejects him. Alice overhears his conversation with Anna. She asks Anna to take her photo, and when Dan has left, confronts her; Anna insists she is “not a thief,” and snaps a photo of a tear-stricken Alice.

Six months later, Dan and Larry meet in an adult chat room. Dan impersonates Anna and has internet sex with Larry. He plays a practical joke on Anna by arranging for Larry to meet her in the London Aquarium the next day. When Larry arrives, stunned to see Anna, he acts under the impression that she is the same person from last night and makes a fool of himself; Anna catches on and explains that it was probably Dan playing a practical joke on him. She reveals that it is her birthday and snaps a photo of Larry. They become a couple.

At Anna’s showing Alice stands in front of her photo looking at it; Dan is watching her. They have an argument over Alice’s presentiment that Dan will leave her. Larry meets Alice, whom he recognizes as the woman from the photo, and knows that she is Dan’s girlfriend. Meanwhile, Dan convinces Anna to carry on an affair with him. They cheat on their partners with each other, even through Anna and Larry’s marriage. Finally, one year later, they tell their partners the truth and leave their respective partners for each other.

Alice, devastated, disappears from Dan’s life and goes back to stripping, going by the name Jane. Larry finds her at one of the seedy strip clubs in London, where he pushes her to tell the truth about her name. In a poignant moment, he asks, “Tell me something true, Alice.” She tells him, “Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off—but it’s better if you do.” They share a connection based in mutual betrayal and heartbreak. He asks her to meet him later, for sex.

A month after this, Anna is late meeting Dan for dinner. She’s come from asking Larry to sign the divorce papers, and Dan finds out that Larry had demanded Anna have sex with him before he would sign the papers. Dan becomes furious, asking Anna why she didn’t lie to him. They have a candid, brutally truthful conversation, and it is revealed that Anna did in fact have sex with Larry, and he did sign the papers.

Alice meanwhile has been sleeping with Larry—on his birthday she summons him to the museum to meet her, and sets up Anna to meet him there. Larry and Anna exchange words, as Anna discovers Alice and Larry have been having a casual relationship. Larry asks Anna if their divorce will ever become finalized; he leaves when Alice emerges. The two women share a heated exchange in which their mutual animosity is revealed—Anna calls Alice “primitive,” a description Alice accepts. The younger woman paints a pathetic picture of Larry’s emotional state, and gleans from Anna that Dan still calls out for “Buster” (Alice’s nickname) in his sleep.

Anna goes back to Larry; distraught, Dan confronts Larry at his office and has to come to terms with the fact that Anna no longer wanted him. Larry recommends Dan go back to Alice and reveals that he had seen her in the strip club. He lies for Alice at first and tells Dan that they did not sleep together, as Alice feared that if Dan found out he would not want her anymore. Then at the end, Larry decides to hurt Dan and reveals the truth—that they had slept together.

Dan and Alice, back together, are preparing to go to America; they relive the memories of their first meeting, but Dan is haunted by Larry and Alice’s encounters and pushes her to tell him the truth. In the moment where Alice becomes caught between telling the truth (which she refused to do) and being unable to lie to him, she falls out of love with Dan and tells him to leave. Dan struggles with her; she spits in his face, and he throws her back on the bed, grabbing her neck. She dares him to hit her, and he hits her and she leaves.

He later finds out that she is not Alice Ayres when he is in the spot where they met and sees her name on a memorial plaque.

Character analysis

The four characters have intricate relationships—Dan is a failed writer, who uses Alice as inspiration. He is passionate, but cynical and immoral. He feels no qualms about seducing Anna with Alice in the next room, and his manipulative use of romantic tropes makes him “a man for whom love is by definition so disappointing that the only true eroticism lies in risk.”[2] Alice, on the other hand, has a polarized view of love—either you love someone or you don’t. She is a slate on which other people project their desires—an icon as well as a woman. Dan uses her as literary fodder, Anna uses her tear-stricken expression for expression of beauty, and Larry uses her body and what he knows of her past for sexual and emotional gratification. An orphan, she “exists to be reinvented.”[3] Dan appears to think she is looking for a father figure—that he fulfills the father role for Alice, and uses that as part of his argument to get Anna to sleep with him.

The three characters still left alive are obsessed with the truth—at different times, Anna, Larry, and Dan all insist on their lover telling them the truth. Alice is the only one to declare ambivalence about the value of truth. Her whole existence in these four years is governed by the central lie of the play; her constantly shifting stories about her scar too indicate a sense of moral relativism when it comes to the truth—and this is what redeems her and makes her the “major victim of these amoral sexual exchanges.” [4]

Larry, composed and wry in the beginning, descends quickly into baffled, betrayed viciousness. Larry and Alice, whose relationship is one of understanding rather than passion (Larry is the first to uncover Alice’s lie about her name), both at different points in the play accept the other character’s accusations that they are animals, bestial, primitive. While Larry is just as willing to play vicious sexual games to break Dan, he is much blunter and shows far less remorse; he’s not sorry that he tells Dan Alice slept with him. He is perhaps the most devoted to the idea of truth, demanding from Anna all the gory details of having sex with Dan, despite the emotional anguish it causes him—his relentless “pursuit of the facts prove [to be] his undoing.”[5]

Anna is a foil to Larry’s brutishness. She hides her desires under moral shields, insisting to Alice that she is “not a thief” and speaking to her patronizingly. Her photographs are indicative of her view of the world—she glosses over pain by defamiliarizing it—taking photos of “sad strangers” and creating beauty from ugliness. However, her morality troubles her; Larry judges Anna to be a depressive, someone who insists on being unhappy because to be otherwise would mean dealing practically with the world around her—actually “living.”


Closer is formed in the style of a drama, characteristically blending elements of classical tragedy, classical comedy, and melodrama. The characters very much resemble the viewing subjects and the conflicts occur between people, in the style of a melodrama. On the other hand, the way the plot progresses is comedic—several romances are pursued. Dan plays a massive comedic trick on Larry, which results in another romance emerging. There are moments of cognito, where Alice realizes that she does not love Dan anymore and Dan realizes he loves Alice—and the final moment of revelation occurs when Alice’s true identity is unveiled. But these elements blend with melodramatic plot twists—the four characters switch partners frequently, and their emotional statuses constantly fluctuate between high and low, in a series of reversals that build toward increasing tension.


The play is set in a few small locales—a hospital room, a studio, a pair of living rooms, a café, a room in the museum, in front of a photo at a showing, a doctor’s office, a bench in front of a suggested aquarium. The text of the play insists on all settings being “minimal.” Though evocative of real happenings, the lack of physical detail in setting is meant to balance the verbal excess. Places are evoked, not shown—benches instead of the front of a museum; a large photo instead of the entire showing.

According to Robert Brustein, in the original production, “[m]emorial blocks constitute the backdrop of the set--a design that gradually accumulates all the scenic pieces used in the play, as if these four lives were a detritus of props and furniture.”[6] The setting is formed to be deliberately symbolic.


The central theme of Closer revolves around truth. All the characters have a tense relationship with truth—only Alice is "not passionate about veracity."[7] Truth, for Dan, is what distinguishes humans from animals—and yet Alice accepts her identity as not quite human for any of the other characters, and loves her primitivism. Her inability to deal with the truth causes her to leave Dan at the end. Those who are passionate about veracity press each other to tell the complete truth, no matter the emotional pain caused by it—and the controlling irony of the situation is that though the truth clarifies, it does not bring together. No one is made “closer” by the truth.

Also being challenged and taken apart is the illusion of love and romance. Dan, the failed writer, speaks in romantic language but feels the least qualms about his infidelities. The characters are driven both by a need for love and a need for sex—these needs clash at times, as when Larry tells Dan that Alice needed love, and Dan had left her for a relationship with Anna. The mythic constructions surrounding personal relationships—the myth of love and truth bringing us together, is deliberately and willfully turned on its head by Marber.

Closer has been described as a work that "gets under its audience’s skin, and ... not for the emotionally squeamish", a work in which "Marber is alert to the cruel inequalities of love, as the characters change partners in what sometimes comes over like a modern reworking of Coward’s Private Lives"[8].


Closer is a play that straddles the line between modernity and post-modernity. The audience must take an active hand in constructing the narrative, disrupting the stability of their perceptions. The minimal sets and unindicated time gaps between scenes disrupt the unity of the play, allowing it to “feel compressed.”

Questions of morality are raised—the assumption that the absolute truth is healthy for relationships is challenged. Romantic notions of love and sex bringing people closer are turned on their heads. The author seems to be concerned also with the element of new forms of communication changing the way we relate—how media like Internet and photography misleads, paints false pictures, and enables people to project their own expectations and lies onto each other. Though the plot is comprehensible, it requires attention to fill in the gaps left by the narrative—as if a linear, logical chronology were only sketched in half way. At times two different but related scenes are simultaneously presented, breaking the linear flow—like when the two couples break apart in scene six, or when Anna must deal with Dan and Larry both at once in act eight.

The texture of the characters is distorted; though their language is real, the characters are sketches. The setting is unfamiliar as well, due to the minimal sets and the stripped nature of the language. The play is written as representational—evocative of real happenings, the lack of physical detail is meant to balance the physical excesses, and integrate an audience participation that nonetheless is distanced by the constant fourth wall. Places are evoked, not shown—such as the Postman’s Park which ties together the beginning of the play with the end. The language used is very vernacular and brutal, but integrated into a tightly choreographed formal style, in which the scenes build up toward a climax and wind down again in approximately reversed order.

Marber described the play's "construction" in an October 1999 interview:

The idea was always to create something that has a formal beauty into which you could shove all this anger and fury. I hoped the dramatic power of the play would rest on that tension between elegant structure (the underlying plan is that you see the first and last meeting of every couple in the play) and inelegant emotion.[8]


The language of Marber’s play is brutal and sexually explicit. In scene three, where Dan and Larry are chatting on a sexual internet site, instant messaging, Marber uses crude and up-to-date terminology and dialogue that you would only see in an instant messaging conversation via the internet. In a review of the Broadway run in New York Magazine, John Simon writes, “Marber tells his story in short, staccato scenes in which the unsaid talks as loudly as the said. The dialogue is almost entirely stichomythic, the occasional speech still not much longer than a few lines. There are frequent pauses, but not of the Pinteresque variety -- more like skipped heartbeats...Closer does not merely hold your attention; it burrows into you.” I think this quite succinctly delivers the exact style of Marber’s writing in this show. Four letter words take on new meaning—their shortness, succinctness becomes part of the compressed structure of the play. Dan is dismissive of simple words like “kind”—“Kind is dull; Kind will kill you.” So can love, and lust. These small words pack a lot of punch—according to Matt Wolf, “the animalistic pulse of the play [is] reflected in its often scabrous language.”[9]


Although no music is indicated in Marber's script to specifically be used, different productions have often most commonly used classical music, like in the 2004 film version of Closer. In one production, the music in Closer was composed by Patty Cunneen, a score described as sounding like “modern Bach.”[10]


Royal National Theatre

It was first performed at the Royal National Theatre, London, on May 22, 1997.

West End

In March the next year the play moved to the West End.

Music Box Theatre

The first American performance was presented March 9, 1999, on Broadway at the Music Box Theater, New York, by Robert Fox, Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Carole Shorenstein Hays, ABC Inc., the Shubert Organization, and the Royal National Theatre.

The production core consisted of:

Director Patrick Marber
Designer Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Hugh Vanstone
Music Paddy Cunneen
Sound Simon Baker
Internet John Owens
Production stage manager R. Wade Jackson

Closer ran for 172 performances on Broadway during 1999, with Polly Draper replacing Richardson starting June 15[11]. Closer won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Foreign Play and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 1999[12].

Theatre Fontaine

It received its Paris premiere on December 22, 1998 at the Theatre Fontaine, in a production based on a French translation by Pierre Laville and directed by Patrice Kerbrat[13].



Early productions of Closer on the West Coast of the United States include one featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal as Alice in a Berkeley Repertory Theatre production in May 2000 (directed by Wilson Milam)[14], and another also featuring Gyllenhaal opposite Rebecca De Mornay as Anna in a Mark Taper Forum production in December 2000, directed by Robert Egan.[15]

Divadlo Na Jezerce

  • Directed by Jan Hřebejk. The play watching 22th November 2009 in Jezerka Theatre, in Prague. Czech title is Na Dotek.
  • Dan .... Jiří Macháček
  • Alice .... Kristýna Liška Boková
  • Anna .... Lenka Vlasáková
  • Larry .... Marek Daniel

Slezské divadlo

  • Directed by Ivan Krejčí. The had premiere at 21th March 2004 in Silesian Theatre in Opava.
  • Dan .... Ladislav Špiner or Ondřej Veselý
  • Alice .... Sabina Figarová or Veronika Senciová
  • Anna .... Hana Vaňková
  • Larry .... Kostas Zerdaloglu

As of 2001, the play has been produced in more than a hundred cities in over thirty different languages around the world.[16]

In February 2009 a new German translation of the play opened in Berlin under the title 'Hautnah.'

Film adaptation

In 2004, Marber adapted the play for a film of the same title. The feature film was directed by Mike Nichols, with stars Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen.

Awards and nominations

The play won the 1997 Evening Standard Best Comedy Award and the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play[17].



  1. ^ Brustein, Robert. "ON THEATER: TWO MORAL X-RAYS - Patrick Marber's Closer and Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth Put Contemporary Life on Stage--and It Isn't Pretty." The New Republic. (1999): 36.
  2. ^ Wolf, Matt. "Closer (Cotteslow Theater, London, England)" Variety Vol 367.n8 June 1997: 103.
  3. ^ Wolf, Matt. "Closer (Cotteslow Theater, London, England)" Variety Vol 367.n8 June 1997: 103.
  4. ^ Brustein, Robert. "ON THEATER: TWO MORAL X-RAYS - Patrick Marber's Closer and Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth Put Contemporary Life on Stage--and It Isn't Pretty." The New Republic. (1999): 36.
  5. ^ Wolf, Matt. "Closer (Cotteslow Theater, London, England)" Variety Vol 367.n8 June 1997: 103.
  6. ^ Brustein, Robert. "ON THEATER: TWO MORAL X-RAYS - Patrick Marber's Closer and Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth Put Contemporary Life on Stage--and It Isn't Pretty." The New Republic. (1999): 36.
  7. ^ Wolf, Matt. "Closer (Cotteslow Theater, London, England)" Variety Vol 367.n8 June 1997: 103.
  8. ^ a b National Theatre : Platform Papers : Patrick Marber (October 1999)
  9. ^ Wolf, Matt. "Closer (Cotteslow Theater, London, England)" Variety Vol 367.n8 June 1997: 103.
  10. ^ Brustein, Robert. "ON THEATER: TWO MORAL X-RAYS - Patrick Marber's Closer and Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth Put Contemporary Life on Stage--and It Isn't Pretty." The New Republic. (1999): 36.
  11. ^ Playbill News: Richardson is Out, Polly Draper Gets Closer June 15
  12. ^ Playbill News: 1999 Tony Nominee: Closer (Play)
  13. ^ a b Playbill News: Patrick Marber's Closer to Make Paris Debut Dec. 22
  14. ^ Playbill News: Milam Directs West Coast Premiere of Marber's Closer , May 19-July 9
  15. ^ Playbill News: Last Chance to Get Closer w/ Rebecca De Mornay in L.A. Dec. 10
  16. ^ Patrick Marber
  17. ^ Playbill News: Closer Comes Closer to Film Adaptation as Mike Nichols Set to Direct

Further reading

  • Marber, Patrick (1999). Closer (First edition ed.). London: Methuen Drama. ISBN 0413709507.  

External links

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