Patrick Marber’s Closer is one of the stand out plays of the 20th century and went on to become a Hollywood film starring Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen, directed by the great Mike Nichols. Yet, seventeen years after first premièring in London, it would be easy to see why it could now be rather out of date. Thanks to director David Leveaux and Marber’s timeless characterisations, however, this is far from the case, with the latest revival currently playing at the Donmar Warehouse repositioning the work as a riveting piece of modern theatre.
Telling the story of four star-crossed Londoners in the 1990s, the play opens with Alice (Rachel Redford) seated in a hospital waiting room with a nasty cut on her leg. Having been hit by a taxi, she has been brought there by the cabbie in question (who didn’t hang around) and Dan (Oliver Chris), a stranger who witnessed the incident and who is clearly attracted to Alice, a stripper who declares herself ‘a waif’.
Chris is convincing as the rather mediocre Dan, a frustrated writer who works on an obituary column, but RADA graduate Redford wasn’t as natural as she should have been, making the witty off-the-cuff style dialogue shamefully clunky, and all the more obvious on Rufus Sewell’s first appearance as Larry, the hospital doctor, who swaggers in arrogantly, whilst possessing irresistible charm – all just as much a cover for his insecurities as his white coat.
Alice’s vulnerability is, as Dan admits, ‘disarming’ and it’s this vulnerability and the human need for love (and sex), that are central themes in Closer, and more importantly, the destruction resulting from infidelity. Dan is understandably fascinated by Alice’s colourful life, leading him to betray his partner, Ruth, whom we never see. Alice, who has borrowed her identity from a Victorian memorial in Postman’s Park, doesn’t seem to mind betrayal until it’s done to her later in the play.
A cast of four doesn’t allow for weak links, but it’s clear from the outset that the true stars of this production are Sewell and Nancy Carroll, spell-binding as Anna, the photographer commissioned to take Dan’s portrait on his first book being published a year later. Dan is now living with Alice (the subject of his novel) but believes himself in love with Anna at first sight, announcing that she has ruined his life. “You’ll get over it” Anna replies – Carroll’s delivery remaining magnetic throughout, as is her chemistry with Sewell on Dan setting them up to meet at London Zoo’s Aquarium – a decided error of judgement.
A tangled web of relationships that some may find hard to follow, Bunny Christie’s sleek, minimal design helps to bring the play into the present day and, with the use of a large screen, the scene changes are extremely effective, especially the aquarium. The internet scene between Dan and Larry is just as laugh-out-loud as it always was and the audience, largely consisting of men and women of retirement age, found the explicit cyber chat (projected onto said screen) just as eyebrow-raising as it was originally intended to be.
Marber, who wrote Closer as an analysis of couples before they commit to having children, is right to be wary of revivals, but this one, although not perfect, is well worth seeing due to Sewell and Carroll’s exceptional performances and some absorbing tennis-like verbal rallies. Most of us aren’t as shocked by references to wet knickers or c***t as we once were, but aside from that Closer remains a funny, honest and thought-provoking tale of relationships and double standards that will live in your memory and conscience.
Closer at the Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, London, WC2H 9LX, until 4th April 2015. For more information and tickets visit the website.