The opening scene of Patrick Marber’s play, first staged at the National Theatre in 1997, takes place in a hospital waiting room and its clinical feel sets the tone for everything that follows. The story, a menage a quatre, sees the play’s characters, three of them middle class professionals nearing middle age, navigate a minefield of relationships, driven by carnal desires whilst seeking emotional fulfilment. Marber’s vision is that one rarely, or never, leads to the other. The journey of a first viewing of Closer involves growing to dislike its characters progressively. Seeing it again relatively soon afterwards (with a Hollywood film appearing in the intervening years), the dislike is cemented in place before entering the theatre and a barrier to emotional involvement is pre-built. The famous chat room scene, fresh and startling in 1997, is now old hat, but, otherwise, the play never feels dated and this revival, directed by David Leveaux, is cold and efficient, as befits its themes. However, there is nothing here that presents the play in a new light or makes it more likeable. The characters, motivated by base instincts such as lust, jealousy and revenge, are marked by their selfishness and mendacity. In a neat touch of irony by Marber, the only one of the four to elicit any audience sympathy is the younger Alice, who works in the sex trade and lies about her past, but is shown to have the purest motives; Rachel Redford’s performance brings out all her simplicity and vulnerability. Daniel is an obituary writer and, as played by Oliver Chris, he is needy, using his boyish charm to seduce firstly Alice and then Anna, oblivious to any collateral damage. Anna (Nancy Carroll), a photographer, switches partners at a whim and Lenny (Rufus Sewell), a dermatologist, joins in the game of musical chairs, initially with bemusement, but eventually turning spiteful and manipulative. Irrational behaviour by the characters often leads to scenes becoming tedious because of their implausibility, but, to balance that, other scenes sparkle with rapier-like exchanges and cynical wisecracks. It is a curious mix, often intriguing, but never fully satisfying. Marber’s next play is to be set in the world of football; perhaps he will find more warmth there.
Performance date: 19 March 2015