From the moment you step into the BT for Closing Time, you are hit with an immediate sense of apprehension. Our protagonist, Arthur (Cameron Cook) sits at a desk in front of you, staring into the distance, immediately setting up tension for a drama about to unfold. It invites the questions: who is this man, what is to happen and, more importantly, will it meet the high expectations this opening invites? As a whole, yes.
Gabriel McCallum’s direction and Sam Ward’s writing are generally strong, with occasional fluctuations either side – a strong image can be weakened by a clichéd line of dialogue (“I’m not the same!”), or the delivery of an epiphany speech (“I don’t know what half these papers are for”) invites perhaps unintended laughs although the play as a whole thrives in that space between laughter and grief, making for unsettling watching. But, when the two join up, in quietly revelatory conversations, the result is wonderful (as the play relies on its dramatic revelations and twists, it’s difficult to be more specific). Ward’s writing struggles on occasion; his technique of using small images to embody the relationship between characters is a good concept, but the objects just feel a little too small or ridiculous, weakening his point (for example, a KitKat to reflect the sexual tension between Arthur and Emily Troup’s Mary). The play’s concept of ‘the dark past’ can also seem initially clichéd, but Ward’s original and effective development of this trope soon marks the play out as an inventive and interesting piece of new writing.
From the opening tableau, Cook confidently establishes his character; an office worker trapped in a mundane existence, seeking solace in flirting with his co-worker Mary. It is testament to Cook’s acting skill that, despite the unsavoury revelations about Arthur later on, he attracts and keeps the audience’s sympathy throughout the play. Whilst Cook shows that he can hold a stage on his own, Conor Robinson as Dean, the figure from the past, seemed less comfortable on his first appearance (the first few lines were slightly gabbled). However, his performance improves dramatically when working with Cook and their scenes together are the crux of the play’s success. In support, Emily Troupe gives a sympathetic portrayal of an office worker attracted to the married Arthur; there was a sense that her performance could go further, to a more flirtatious or emotional extreme, but her performance was overall a pleasure to watch. As Mark, the office supervisor, Thomas Lodge is less successful: coming across as slightly caricatured, with a camp attitude that feels out of place with the intensity of the rest of the play. However, like the other actors, he delivers his more serious moments more successfully than the comedy, suggesting that the play’s strength is in its tragedy and tension.
Closing Time, is ultimately hinged on the downfall of Arthur, and the direction, writing and Cook’s performance, all powerfully depict his decline in a moving and tense seventy minutes. The final tableau, a repeat of the opening – showing Arthur staring, quiet, with deadened eyes – leaves you with a sense of sympathetic grief. This is a play that is well worth seeing.