On the most fundamental level, the dazzling British playwright Patrick Marber (who occasionally doubles up his authorship with directorial and performance work on stage and in film) will forever be associated with a brand of 1990s Brit theater, known as "In Yer Face," that involves confronting and viscerally assaulting the audience with the use of language and groundbreaking, taboo-smashing subject matter. But to view the dramatist on this level alone is deceptive; he is equally lauded for his multilayered characterizations, his witty, often ingenious use of dialogue, and his brilliance with narrative structure -- as well as his ability to effortlessly adapt his own theatrical works into screenplays.
Born in 1964 in London, Marber attended Wadham College in Oxford as a young man, and launched off into a comedy writing career upon graduation, scripting and occasionally acting in such programs as The Day Today, Paul and Pauline Calf's Video Diaries, Knowing Me, Knowing You and On the Hour. Marber authored and mounted his first two plays in the early '90s: Dealer's Choice (1995), a meditation on gambling, and Closer (1997), a chamber drama that explores the sexual machinations and betrayals that unfold between four love-starved Londoners.
Closer became not simply a hit but a transcontinental phenomenon -- one of the most popular and oft-revived theatrical pieces since perhaps Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf -- whose iciness it mirrors. It seemed ideal, then, that when Marber transitioned the work to the screen in 2004, Mike Nichols (the helmer of the screen version of Woolf) signed to direct. Working together -- with Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, and Jude Law as their four leads -- the men produced a masterpiece and a critical darling that swept scores of honors including Supporting Actor and Actress nominations for Owen and Portman; surprisingly, neither Marber, Nichols, nor the film itself were nominated. Most who responded favorably to the film attested to the fact that it virtually redefined the careers of its two lead actresses and put its playwright-cum-screenwriter on the international map.
Marber disappointed, however, with his late 2005 follow-up. Asylum, also self-adapted from one of his plays but directed by David Mackenzie, studies the explosive carnal intimacy ignited between the resident of a mental institution and Stella (Natasha Richardson), the wife of the facility's director. The picture failed to make a splash at the box office, while critics found the work mediocre and predictable, and responded tepidly. The New Yorker's Anthony Lane hit the nail on the head when he observed, " Much of the dialogue is scissor-sharp -- you would expect no less of Marber, who wrote Closer -- but he is up against blunt and obvious material."
In December 2006, Marber returned to cinemas with a film adaptation of Zoe Heller's novel Notes on a Scandal, directed by Richard Eyre. The picture ups the angst and intensity of Closer with its tale of an embittered, Machiavellian teacher (Judi Dench) who uses inside knowledge of another employee's (Cate Blanchett) extramarital affair to viciously blackmail the woman and destroy her life. Even prior to its release, Notes on a Scandal netted countless award nominations including a Best Screenplay Golden Globe nod for Marber.
Over the course of his career, Marber has directed stage works by several other playwrights. These include David Mamet's The Old Neighborhood, Craig Raine's 1953, Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, and Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills.