Douglas Rintoul directs Closer at the Théâtre des Capucins

Love, love, love

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 12.05.2011

d’Lëtzebuerger Land: In 2008 it was Noël Coward’s Design for Living. Now you’re back directing Patrick Marber’s Closer, the most talked-about play of the 1990s. How did that choice come about?

Douglas Rintoul: Well, I was invited back to Luxembourg, so it was a case of what we would do. Actually, Jules (Werner) mentioned Closer. It seemed like a natural progression.

Marber is very honest about the structure of the piece and you can see all the influences. There is a connection with Design for Living, but specifically with Private Lives. And then, in terms of time structure, with Pinter’s Betrayal, which Jules and Myriam (Muller) have done in French. So there’s a link between the three pieces. And I think I do have a natural affinity with contemporary British texts of this type. When a writer is this precise, there’s a great joy for a director in just getting closer and closer to the text and the rhythm.

There seems to be a clash between the violence of the feelings and the perfect symmetry of the structure, the very exact architecture of the play.

Yes, there’s a great pleasure for the audience in that. There’s also a great pleasure for a theatre-maker working with that. Each scene is a play within itself. It is up to us to connect the accumulation of all these scenes.

The stage directions say things like “the following year” or “five months later”, but you’re not supposed to let the audience know.

That’s the fun. That’s the joy for audiences because I think it absolutely engages them and draws them in. It becomes like a detective story.

Two men and two women falling in and out of love, swapping partners and then moving on. You don’t have to be socially privileged to have that type of lifestyle nowadays….

No, not any more. There’s a class discussion within the play though. And, definitely, it is about a particular generation who are told they can have everything and anything. It’s a classic mid-thirties play. All the characters are getting to a point when they are saying “What is my life?” or “Who am I with? Is this the right person?” Yes, it’s set in London and there are all these references, but then in any city of nine million people there will be all that choice. You meet somebody and then you may not see them again…

What about Postman’s Park, that rather strange place which is at the heart of the play?

The choice of area that most of Closer happens in is interesting. Particularly in the late nineties. It’s an area of London that is transforming and has a real mix of modernity and the romanticism of the Victorian era. And then also it is the City.

Could you perhaps say a bit more about the language.

The economy of the language is crucial. Marber is capturing a very urban way of speaking. It’s a language of survival. One of the difficult things for all the actors is that the language is so proactive. People are constantly looking for a reflection from outside. It’s such an external language. It’s very visceral, of course, yet it never feels shocking because the stakes are so high.

The great thing about working with this text is the rhythm. Marber is structuring the thoughts of the characters very carefully. If you do go deep into it, it is a joy for an actor to play. If you do follow it, then it oddly externally releases the emotion because it builds and builds. There are these great crescendos. It’s also a text about how we do change, how we are influenced by partnerships and change role. There’s obviously a great discussion about what love is.

Coming back to this production, there’s Myriam Muller and Jules Werner, who are very well-known here. Who are the other two actors?

I was keen to bring a British actor over because it roots the language for everyone in a really good way. It’s interesting also because of the class debate within the play, which is not as distinct here as it is within the UK. Finding somebody who really understood that was important. And I’ve worked with Richard (Shackley) before. I directed him when he was a third-year student. It’s a glorious thing to see a young actor mature and to be able to give them the opportunity to take on a very meaty and difficult role. Richard’s Welsh. He’s from Swansea and has a particular background which he can relate to Larry.

And I was very keen to try and find an English-speaking Luxembourgish actress. I saw quite a lot of people; I came over three or four times. And then I met Elisabet (Johannesdottir) and, of course, the part of Alice is a young part. It’s a big part but Elisabet’s got a lovely dynamic energy and, also, she’s trained in America. There was a discussion about whether the character of Alice should be British or not. Well, the power and the economy of the American accent really work with the text. More importantly, it’s an exciting thing to direct a young actor and give them their première in their home country.

And then, you are going to be back at the Capucins with Invisible in November!

Yes, it is a new piece I’ve been developing for my own company for about two years now on and off at the National Theatre Studio, which is the research and development wing of the National Theatre. It is a piece exploring issues of identity around globalisation, primarily around narratives of immigrants coming to the UK, but it’s not necessarily just about the UK. It’s about Europe and it’s about the world. It’s a collaboration with a brilliant Croatian writer called Tena Štivicic, who lives in the UK and has a very distinct voice. Luxembourg is the perfect place for Invisible because of the fluidity of nationality and identity. It will be really interesting to see how it’s perceived here.

Closer is at the Théâtre des Capucins on May 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27; www.theatres.lu.
Janine Goedert
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