It was a time before memes. When the film adaptation of Closer was released in 2004, Clive Owen’s sneering shut down of his on-screen partner Julia Roberts was shared on repeat.

The infamous line closes the first act of the popular play, which premiered in 1997 and is being revived in Brisbane by La Boite, directed by the company’s artistic director Courtney Stewart.

The insult stings as it lingers in the air, and we ponder what will happen to dermatologist Larry (Colin W. Smith), who has just learned that his wife Anna (Anna McGahan) is leaving him.

To reveal this part of the story does not spoil it – playwright Patrick Marber leaves much after the interval for the characters (and audience) to digest. So how did we get here?

Obituary writer Dan (Kevin Spink) comes to the aid of Alice (Sophia Emberson-Bain), a young woman who has been in a car accident. Alice shares tall tales of how she came to be in such a predicament, and Dan is taken in hook, line and sinker. He ditches his existing relationship and writes a book about his new muse (as one does).

It is at this point that we meet Anna, a photographer who is taking Dan’s headshot. Larry rounds out the quartet, courtesy of a vintage Apple computer and an awkward, realistic exchange on an early dating website.

Closer engineers a labyrinth of deception and intrigue, and it relies on the cast to convince us to follow them into its depths.

Emberson-Bain is the most successful on this count. Her Alice is vulnerable yet street smart and offers the play’s most potent observations on sexual agency in a moody back-and-forth scene with Larry in the back of a strip club.

Smith’s British accent occasionally slips, but his sexually frustrated Larry lands. Here is an outwardly successful but emotionally stunted man who is not above revenge. More than once does Smith draw focus by merely answering a phone.

Dan and Anna’s dynamic is more problematic. McGahan’s Anna is intense and brutally honest, but what does she see in this second-rate writer? Spink reveals Dan’s fatal curiosity by the show’s end (in another scene anchored by Emberson-Bain) but, until this point, the chemistry between Dan and his partners fails to flare.

Working in the round on M’ck McKeague’s simple octagonal set, director Stewart focuses the delivery on no place in particular. All corners of the theatre receive their share of the story’s peaks and troughs, and some of the zingers disappear into the ceiling, depending on where you are sitting.

McKeague’s set and costumes capture the turn of the millennium, with pops of Barbie pink. The fight and intimacy scenes (directed by Nigel Poulton) are well drawn and support the actors during the play’s flashpoints to reveal their characters’ fears and desires.

Almost 30 years after its premiere, the language of Closer retains its bite, and there remains scenes to relish, but the work feels constrained by its heteronormative and monogamous worldview.

Closer continues at La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre, Kelvin Grove, until April 20.

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