THEATRE REVIEW: Closer, Donmar Warehouse

runs until 4 April

 (Photo: Johan Persson)
Rachel Redford (Alice) and Rufus Sewell (Larry) in Closer (Photo: Johan Persson)

Most of the reviews for this revival of Patrick Marber’s modern classic focused on comparisons with the original 1997 production; I’m coming fresh to the play, having never seen it on stage or even the film adaptation. For me, the success of the play lies in Marber’s caustic yet poetic dialogue, and his keen yet brutal observation of human relationships. While the focus is primarily on sexual relationships, it also goes wider and deeper than that, exploring our interactions and insecurities with alternating ferocity and calculating detail. More than anything, it still feels like an up-to-date, on-the-money representation of the time and the people that inhabit Marber’s carefully-chosen locations: I would certainly not call it dated.

The small space at the Donmar suits the piece perfectly, its boxy nature enclosing the action and giving an episodic, almost filmic feel to aspects of the show, which is highlighted during the chatroom scene in which we get a ‘split screen’ effect. During the break-ups, scenes are merged so two couples appear on stage together in separate conversations, their movements and dialogue interlocking just like their entangled encounters and relationships. Director David Leveaux manages to capture concentrated emotion but also constant movement: it is intense but never static or claustrophobic, as you always feel that he characters are on the brink of their next move, their next emotional swing or sudden proposition.

The cast of four inhabit their own individual style and personality with confidence and they work effectively as an ensemble. Rachel Redford is sparky and soulful as Alice, suitably irritating us at times with her unpredictability, but probably the character who undergoes the most changes throughout the piece. A relative newcomer in comparison to the rest of the cast, she is a talent to look out for in the future. Fresh from successes in Great Britain and King Charles III, Oliver Chris as Dan gives a performance that continues to surprise: at times he displays awkwardness, but he allows us flashes of hardness and unanticipated intensity. Rufus Sewell is perfect in the role of Larry: a combination of arrogance, charm, desperation and deep insecurity that leaves us always wary in his presence. Sewell’s performance is probably the one that kept me hooked more than other, not because of his greater fame but because I felt the impulsive actions of him – and of Alice – particularly signified the unpredictable yet somehow inevitably destructive cycle of these relationships. Finally, Nancy Carroll is a delight as Anna. Poised and sexy, her look seems to consistently penetrate and question the other characters, her gaze embodying the intensity of the play: the constant, calculated games and twists that mark out these characters lives throughout the piece.

Rufus Sewell (Larry ) and (Anna) ion stage at the Donmar (Photo: Johan Persson)
Rufus Sewell (Larry) and Nancy Carroll (Anna) on stage at the Donmar (Photo: Johan Persson)

Bunny Christie’s design is striking, making use of simple sets that make bold images, particularly making good use of the screens above the back wall. In Anna’s exhibition, the arresting portrait of Alice draws the eye time and time again, and still seems fixed in my mind when I reflect on the play. However there is also comedy to be found, and many laughs are raised by the use of a different kind of screen – the online chat room by which Dan tricks Larry, ultimately leading to his first meeting with Anna. The wittily comic and cooly tragic fall side by side naturally without melodrama. The narrative of the ending is poignant in a way we are used to, but its staging is truly beautiful and the quietness that inhabits the final scenes is full of thoughts and emotions silently poured forth by the audience as well as the characters. The intensity that has been present throughout becomes gentler but more affecting, and it’s a shared moment of sadness.

Closer is an impressive revival that feels modern, remains engrossing throughout and showcases finely-tuned acting and direction that gives it a sharp, unusual power. A modern classic still going strong.

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