Closer, Donmar Warehouse - Theatre Review: 'Rufus Sewell Is On Thrilling Form' In This First Revival of Patrick Marber's Play
Patrick Marber's 1997 Drama About the Brutality of Modern Relationships Still Feels Shrewdly Observed 18 Years On
Evening Standard, 24 February 2015
When it premiered at the National Theatre in 1997, 'Closer' was instantly acclaimed as an intricate and savvy study of modern relationships in all their chilly brutality ó NoŽl Coward for the internet generation, although it was also less charitably described as a cross between 'Men Behaving Badly' and 'Last Tango in Paris'.
Now getting its first major revival, Patrick Marberís play still feels shrewdly observed. It also comes across as a surprisingly warm homage to Londonís secret corners ó notably Postmanís Park near St Paulís, site of a memorial to ordinary people who died saving the lives of others.
Whatís missing, though, is real passion. Rufus Sewell is on thrilling form as Larry, a dermatologist who veers between a cavemanís lust and moments of demented sensitivity. But elsewhere David Leveauxís production feels stilted.
Individually the performances work. Nancy Carroll has poise and a nervy vulnerability as photographer Anna. Oliver Chris brings a mix of puppyish youth and destructive neediness to aspiring novelist Daniel, who writes obituaries for a newspaper. Rachel Redford captures the waifish appeal of Alice, who strips for men in a sleazy but expensive club and can switch abruptly from streetwise toughness to moist-eyed innocence.
All these characters weave fictions about themselves. Each is intriguingly self-contradictory, capable of cruelty and charm. But the chemistry isnít convincing. Thereís also a lack of atmosphere, though this is arguably an attempt to suggest these people are trapped in their bleak selfishness and are products of an empty society.
The most absorbing scene is the one that should seem most dated. Daniel pretends to be a woman in an internet chatroom and grabs the attention of Larry, whom he thrills with a torrent of filth. This is funny, creepy and intimate. But only Sewell consistently invests the production with a sense of danger.
Still, Marber writes perceptively about our obsession with appearances, the perils of honesty, and the damage we can do to others in the name of love. At its best his dialogue remains wickedly sharp.