A merciless dissection of modern relationships as fair individuals trade partners in love and lust is how you could describe Patrick Marber’s 1997 comedy of manners Closer, revived in a new production, directed by David Leveaux, at the Donmar Warehouse.
Dan, an obituaries editor and aspiring writer, rescues Alice a part-time stripper, after she is run over by a taxi, and takes her to A&E, where she is “briefly examined by Larry, a dermatologist. We then move forward and Dan, now living with Alice, has written a book about her experiences. He has his author photograph taken by Anna, an attractive photographer, with whom he falls in love as abruptly as he fell for Alice. Anna rejects him, though with a tinge of equivocation. Alice, meanwhile, overhearing the conversation, is distraught. In an internet chatroom Dan encounters Larry and impersonating Anna, arranges a rendezvous. And so it goes on with the characters demanding intimate details of their partners’ illicit relationships and each new coupling becoming more emotionally wrenching than the last.
Marber’s brutal dissection of his characters’ anxiety, amorality and reluctant romanticism seemed a disturbing reflection of their times. But I cannot understand why the play became an instant hit when it first premiered – all the characters are self-contradictory, capable of cruelty and charm, but the chemistry between them is unconvincing and the language sexually explicit. This may be London at the end of the 20th century, where lives collide and fate changes in an instant but the trouble is you just don’t feel for these greed, products of an empty society, where truthful affection is almost totally absent.
A chiselled Rufus Sewell brings a gauche vulnerability to the cycle of betrayals, as the dermatologist Larry, while a bearded Oliver Chris display’s a mixture of puppyish youth and destructive neediness as the journalist Dan, and Nancy Carroll has poise and self-possession as the photographer Anna. The best performance, however, comes from relative newcomer Rachel Redford, who manages to capture the waifish appeal and little girl fragility of Alice, switching abruptly from streetwise toughness to moist-eyed innocence.
Although this play manages to maintain one’s interest – thanks to David Leveaux’s well-drilled production, can’t help feeling that a better choice of showcasing Marber’s talents as a playwright would have been to revive the excellent Dealer’s Choice.
Run until April 4
Box office: 0844 871 7624Last modified: June 9, 2021