Playwright and director
Born September 19, 1964, in London, England; son of Brian and Angela Marber; married Debra Gillett (an actress), 2002; children: three sons. Education: Earned degree in English from Wadham College of Oxford University, c. 1987.
Addresses: Agent—The Endeavor Agency, 9601 Wilshire Blvd., 10th Fl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Home—London, England.
Performed as part of a slapstick duo; did stand-up comedy in London, late 1980s; became a writer for the British radio show On the Hour, and then the television series The Day Today, early 1990s; performer for television on Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge, 1994–95; first play, Dealer's Choice, produced in London at the Royal National Theater, 1995; adapted plays by others, including After Miss Julie for BBC television, 1995; actor in Speed the Plow, London, 2000; wrote play, Howard Katz, produced in London, 2001; has also served as director for several of his plays; adapted Closer for the screen, Columbia Pictures, 2004; adapted Patrick McGrath's Asylum, Paramount Classics, 2005; adapted Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal, Fox Searchlight, 2006; co-author of the screenplay for The Tourist, 20th Century-Fox, 2007.
Awards: Evening Standard award for best comedy, and Writer's Guild award for best West End play, both 1995, both for Dealer's Choice; Evening Standard award for best comedy, Critics Circle award for best play, and Laurence Olivier award for best play, all 1997, all for Closer; New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best foreign play of 1998–99, for Closer.
British playwright and director Patrick Marber roused the London theater scene in 1995 his acclaimed debut, Dealer's Choice. He followed that drama centering on an all-night poker game with Closer, a tangled romantic drama later adapted for Hollywood and cast with an all-star line-up that included Julia Roberts and Jude Law. In 2006, a screenplay Marber adapted from the novel Notes on a Scandal earned intense critical accolades as well as his first nomination for an Academy Award. With several prestigious British theater awards to his name, Marber has earned comparisons to a pair of outstanding English playwrights, Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter, but a Times of London journalist cited Marber's singular achievement in British drama as its neared its 500-year mark at the turn of the twenty-first century: "The important thing was that he was bringing in younger audiences in sufficient numbers to sustain the argument that thoughtful theatre had a buoyant future," declared Alan Franks.
Born in 1964, Marber was one of two boys in his family and grew up in comfortable middle-class surroundings in the London suburb of Wimbledon. His father worked in the City, as the financial district of London is called, but in his younger years had performed with the acclaimed Footlights amateur comedy troupe at Cambridge University. Marber was sent to one of the top private schools in the country, St. Paul's in London, but was expelled after a year. "I fell in with a bad lot who I now think of as a great lot," he explained to a writer for the Sunday Times. "Punk was happening. A bit of spitting, a bit of drinking, a bit of smoking." He went on to enroll at another boarding school, this one in Surrey, where he discovered his competitive streak in track and field sports.
In his teens Marber also developed an appreciation for the bleak fiction of Albert Camus and Franz Kafka, which deepened his appreciation for the plays he already liked to see in London, first with his parents and later on his own. "From about the age of 13 or 14, I was one of those kids hanging out in the bar, in the foyer, in the bookshops of the National Theatre, seeing two shows a day on student standby tickets," he told Sarah Kuhn in Back Stage West. With a somewhat rebellious streak still evident, he informed his parents that he would not be attending his final year of school before university, and studied for the university entrance examinations on his own. He entered Wadham College at Oxford in 1983, where he studied English. He also picked up a gambling habit, which started with a couple of good wins at London casinos and then progressed deep into high-stakes private poker games. "I just thought, 'Yeah, this is the life, this is good,'" he explained about the allure to Robert Hanks, a journalist for Britain's Independent on Sunday. "I hadn't been particularly interested in drugs or alcohol and then I found gambling and thought, 'Yeah, that's what I am.'"
After college, Marber toyed with writing a novel, but instead decided to try his luck on the stage. After a stint with another comic as a slapstick duo, he spent four years doing stand-up comedy in the London area. What drove him to embark on such a difficult career, he explained to Franks in the Times interview, was a desire "to be able to control a room with 200 people in it, and to make them laugh. And I learnt how to do it. It is not hard if you have the will."
Behind the scenes, however, Marber's personal life was anything but lighthearted. He returned to gambling in his off hours, describing it as "the Jewish vice" in the Sunday Times interview. "I have no idea why Jews are attracted to gambling. Jews aren't very good at football, I suppose." His father eventually helped bail him out of his rising debtload, and Marber later admitted that he suffered from a depression that began in his teens and endured well into his twenties. Moving to Paris in 1991 failed to lift his mood, nor produce the novel he still hoped to write, and he decided to return to London when a friend from college contacted him with an offer to write for a radio program.
That show was On the Hour, which teamed him with actor-comic Steve Coogan, and they collaborated on a piece that Coogan performed at the 1992 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which took the Perrier Comedy Award that year. Marber spent the next few years working with Coogan, moving on to a 1994 television series-version of their popular radio show. Coogan was becoming famous for his roster of fictional characters for which he and Marber co-wrote sketches, one of them an unctuous television interviewer named Alan Partridge, described by the Sunday Times as "the chat-show host from hell with his Pringle sweaters, World of Leather sofa and obsession with ABBA." Coogan's character eventually landed his "own" show, Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge, on which Marber occasionally appeared as a performer.
One member of the growing cult fan base for Alan Partridge was the new artistic director of the prestigious Royal National Theatre (RNT), Richard Eyre, who invited Marber to a writer's workshop at the South London venue. That led to a formal commission from the RNT—the first time it had made such an offer to an untested playwright—and then another unprecedented invitation to direct the finished work, Dealer's Choice. Set in a London restaurant and driven by the tension in an all-night poker game, it was a story that drew heavily from Marber's own experiences in the world of hardcore gamblers. When it opened at the RNT in February of 1995, Marber's debut was immediately hailed by critics as a tour de force. Anne McElvoy, writing in the Times of London, called it "a mordant, linguistically dazzling comedy…. Here is the vicious circle of relationships in hock to debts unpaid and expectations unfulfilled, the awful spectacle of people living in no man's land between hope and failure, a life-in-waiting." It earned Marber the prestigious Evening Standard Theater Award for Best Comedy, and moved to a six-month run in the West End—London's commercial theater district and the British equivalent to New York City's Broadway—where it won the Writers' Guild Award for Best West End Play. The New York Times critic Vincent Canby saw it there and asserted that "Marber's dialogue is as funny as it is mean. It can reveal character and move the narrative forward in a single unbroken breath."
Marber followed that stellar debut with a television adaptation of an 1888 stage drama, Miss Julie, by Swedish playwright August Strindberg. His version was titled After Miss Julie and updated the class-centered story to the year 1945, with his titular heroine the daughter of a British Labour Party politician on the eve of Labour's historic victory at the polls. The RNT commissioned another work from him, and he turned in another smash hit, Closer, which debuted in London in the spring of 1997 again with Marber as director. The tightly constructed story revolved around four people and their romantic—or merely sexual—liaisons with one another. Again, critics showered tremendous accolades on it, and it won a trio of prestigious theater awards that season, including an Evening Standard honor, the London Critics' Circle Theatre Award, and a Laurence Olivier Award, the latter two for Best New Play of the season.
Writing about Closer in the Sunday Times, John Peter declared that Marber "has written one of the best plays of sexual politics in the language," and compared it to A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The Sunday Times critic also commended the play's structure and the way its quartet of characters meet and part as if by chance. "The world, someone says, is an accident, and physicists would probably agree; and Marber the storyteller has the rare gift of making the improbable feel necessary, like fate," Peter declared.
Closer went on to a four-month run on Broadway and a film version, adapted by Marber for the screen, directed by Hollywood veteran Mike Nichols. It also proved popular in translation, and accrued a list of countries in which it had been staged that reached 30 in number by the time it was a decade old. In the meantime, Marber concentrated on adapting the works of other playwrights in acclaimed productions, and accepted the occasional role on stage. In 2000, he appeared as Charlie Fox in a London revival of Speed the Plow by David Mamet, a playwright to whom he is often compared. Marber found that switching roles, from playwright and director to performer, was revelatory. "It gave me a better understanding of some of the things actors complain about," he told Anthony Holden for an Observer interview, "which comes in handy when writing. I think all actors should direct sometime. In the old days, you did everything."
Marber's next original play was Howard Katz, produced in London in 2001 but the first of his works to earn a fair share of negative reviews for its bleak tale of a talent agent whose life is spiraling out of control. The years following that were spent working on the screen version for Closer, as well as adaptations of a novel by Patrick McGrath—Asylum, a 2005 thriller that starred Natasha Richardson and Ian McKellen—and then Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller, which was a critical hit when released in theaters in late 2006; it was directed by Eyre, his mentor from the RNT. The story centered around two women—an older, matronly teacher played onscreen by Judi Dench, and her younger colleague, portrayed by Cate Blanchett—along with some salacious sexual misconduct and a disastrous betrayal of friendship.
In 2007, Marber co-wrote the screenplay for The Tourist, a murder mystery with sexually sordid overtones starring Ewan MacGregor. There was also the long-awaited film version of I'm Alan Partridge, for which Marber also co-authored the screenplay. Having conquered two realms—stage and screen—he seems to have satisfied his younger desire to write a novel, but he does harbor one final ambition: "I'd like to direct one film in my life. I'd like to have the experience once, see if I like it," he said to Kuhn in the Back Stage West interview. "Really I'm a writer. But I've hung on a few movie sets now, and I'm friendly with enough actors who I might be able to call in for a favor. It's pretty damn obvious that the best job on a movie set is the directing job."
Dealer's Choice, Royal National Theater, London, England, 1995.
Closer, Royal National Theater, 1997.
Howard Katz, Royal National Theater, 2001.
(Adaptation) Don Juan in Soho, Donmar Warhehouse Theater, London, 2006.
Back Stage West, December 28, 2006, p. 13.
Independent on Sunday (London, England), May 11, 1997, p. 14.
New York Times, April 20, 1995; March 21, 1999.
Observer (London, England), November 16, 2003, p. 6.
Sunday Times (London, England), June 8, 1997, p. 6; June 17, 2001, p. 15.
Time International, June 25, 2001, p. 64.
Times (London, England), May 11, 1995, p. 16; January 27, 2007, p. 34.