'Closer', Donmar Warehouse, London - Review
Patrick Marber's 1997 Play Is Revived With a Stellar Cast
The Financial Times, 24 February 2015
At the end of one scene in Patrick Marber's 1997 four-hander, stripper and self-described "waif"¯Alice exits in high dudgeon from an argument with photographer Anna. Each is now involved with the other's ex, and not by mutual consent. It's that kind of plot, which makes for a deal of emotional intensity, in this case anger. But as Rachel Redford strode along the vomitorium through the audience, her eyes were visibly full of tears. To go to such lengths for the few of us close enough to make out that detail suggests an impressive commitment to emotional truth on Redford's part.
'Closer' is a play about the ambiguous values and consequences of those grand universal virtues, truth and love. But, ironically, Alice is the one character not cripplingly attached to veracity. Also, as it happens, Redford is the only actor who is not a sizeable name. Anna is played by Nancy Carroll, obituarist and aspiring novelist Dan by Oliver Chris, dermatologist Larry by Rufus Sewell. It is the kind of cast to give your eye-teeth for, and all four take David Leveaux's direction with the skill and commitment one would expect. It's just hard to make some of the moments ring true: Alice's suppressed tears seem more credible than either Dan's or Larry's free-flowing ones at other points.
In many ways, however, this is a strength of Marber's drama rather than a weakness. He alternates between naturalism and near-melodrama to make us question characters' sincerity to themselves more than to anyone else, as they couple and decouple with each other, professing grand passions - and believing in them - when seemingly more often motivated simply by lust. Time and again, truth comes principally as an embarrassment or an obstacle; it may lead to clarity but never to happiness.
The play has not dated as I feared it might have: the notorious scene when Dan (pretending to be Anna) and Larry engage in pornographic messaging in an internet chatroom does not seem stale simply because they would now be doing it via a mobile phone app. Bunny Christie's set is timeless as well as placeless, leaving us to focus entirely on the quartet and ponder Dan's question: "What's so great about the truth?"¯