'Closer', Donmar Warehouse, Review: 'Cooly Controlled'
Patrick Marber's Most Famous Play Still Dazzles But Isn't As Shocking As It Once Was Finds Jane Shilling
The Telegraph, 24 February 2015
When Patrick Marber’s award-winning third play, 'Closer', premiered at the National Theatre in 1997, it drew comparisons with Noel Coward, Harold Pinter and Choderlos de Laclos’s chilly 18th-century sex-tragedy, 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses'. The drama portrays an agonised sexual and emotional square dance between a quartet of articulate people preoccupied with the restless pursuit of sex and love, discovering to their chagrin that those two urgent imponderables are not necessarily reconcilable.
Dan (Oliver Chris), is an obituaries editor with the soulful allure of a chap who spends his days thinking about the recently dead. He gallantly escorts Alice (Rachel Redford), a waiflike part-time stripper, to A&E after she is run over by a taxi. There she is briefly examined by Larry (Rufus Sewell), a dermatologist.
Fast-forward a year and Dan, now living with Alice, has written a book about her experiences. He has his author photograph taken by Anna (Nancy Carroll), 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, overhearing the conversation, is distraught. In an internet chat room Dan encounters Larry and, impersonating Anna, arranges an encounter. And so it continues, each new coupling more more emotionally wrenching than the last.
'Closer' was written at a time when a generation of young playwrights, including Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill, were making bold experiments with the power of drama to question and disturb. Marber’s forensic dissection of his characters’ unsettling blend of anxiety, amorality and reluctant romanticism, and the elegant brutality of his play’s language and sexual mores seemed a disturbing reflection of their time.
Almost two decades on, the shock value has slightly eroded to leave the play’s intricate, ludic structure interestingly exposed in David Leveaux’s coolly controlled revival. Bunny Christie’s monochrome set of interlocking angles neatly echoes the diagrammatic permutations of the relationships between characters whose occupations hint at an almost Jacobean obsession with the skull beneath the skin.
With its power to outrage somewhat mellowed, 'Closer' appears a play as preoccupied with the workings-out of its own exquisitely ingenious structure as with a deeper human truth. Nancy Carroll finds an emotional complexity in Anna that stands at a slight angle to her colleagues’ less nuanced performances in a play whose dazzlingly enjoyable qualities of intelligence and wit don’t quite constitute an insight into the human condition.