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Closer, Lyric Hammersmith review - still sordid and sexy 25 years on | reviews, news & interviews

Closer, Lyric Hammersmith review - still sordid and sexy 25 years on

Closer, Lyric Hammersmith review - still sordid and sexy 25 years on

Lovers come together, split apart and come together again

Ella Hunt and Jack Farthing in Closer - Hair today, gone tomorrowMarc Brenner

Drama is writing in thin air, its content instantly spirited away into unreliable memory, so if a play is to be revived a quarter century on from its first run, it has to say something substantial about the human condition. Patrick Marber's Closer does so because people are always balancing the need for love with the need for sex, dealing with the gnawing desire for someone just out of reach, wearily coping with the emotional baggage of lives lived badly.

And here it is in a 25th anniversary revival at the Lyric Hammersmith directed by Clare Lizzimore: not bad for a play that opened quietly at the National Theatre's Cottesloe before storming the West End, Broadway, and Hollywood, where it was made into a starry Mike Nichols film that earned Oscar nods for Clive Owen and Natalie Portman. A previous revival at the Donmar starred Oliver Chris and Nancy Carroll. 

Alice, Portman's screen role, is a mystery girl who is found in the road unconscious, like a malnourished Dickensian flower girl, leg bleeding, heart most likely damaged even more. Dan picks her up, takes her to A&E and they talk. She knows how to fascinate a bored man like him and he, a writer feeling as if life is passing him by, sees a lover, a muse and a subject all in one alluring package. It's all very transactional, but this is the Nineties when that sort of thing was a novelty.

At the hospital, they bump into Larry, a dermatologist who can afford to pay for sex and often does. The three are destined to meet again  repeatedly. A year or so on, a now confident Dan flirts shamelessly with Anna, a photographer commissioned to shoot him for a book cover  the book based on Alice's enigmatic life, natch  and soon, he's obsessed with the older, more worldly woman and drifting away from Alice. Anna later marries Larry but Dan steals her away and Larry has an affair with Alice.

It's all a little La Ronde in miniature but, in the week when Ben Affleck married Jennifer Lopez, hardly seems too far-fetched. And it affords the opportunity for Marber to inject piercing, cynical insights on romance, sex, power and, especially, selfishness into his tight, urgent script. At once, the play feels modern and classical, a chorus of musicians and young actors adding more than a touch of Greek Tragedy to the heady mix.

Ella Hunt, crucially as young herself as Alice, adopts different personality types as she hunts for what she wants (or thinks she wants)  in this Brechtian staging, we actually see her renewing herself, wigs, costumes, make-up applied stage right. She can be tempting, needy and bolshy all at once  and it's hard to overstate just how much that appeals to a certain kind of man. 

Jack Farthing gives Dan a certain aloofness, but he can't sustain it once the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, as today's young people say) kicks in and he slimily inveigles himself into and out of the lives of Alice and Anna (and other women, off stage). He is the walking, talking embodiment of male entitlement, with the added extra of brittle self-regard that so often accompanies that most distasteful of character traits.

Sam Troughton's doctor (pictured above with Nina Toussaint-White) is at least honest, rampantly oversexed, funny and self-aware, but hardly to be excused for his excesses, his casual disregard for the psychological wellbeing of others. Plenty of middle aged men will trying very hard not to laugh at his superego-free rants if they're sitting next to their partners  in fact, best to say right here, right now, that this is not a date play at all!

Nina Toussaint-White is harder to work out as Anna, the photographer who captures the pain and personalities of strangers through her lens, but gives little of herself away. Sure she's damaged (with typically brutal frankness, Larry points out that we all are to a lesser or greater extent) but the camera is her extra layer of armour, supplementing the carapace of skin (there's a lot about skin in this play) and it was only at the curtain call, that I realised that her Anna had not smiled through the previous two hours.   

Intellectually stimulating, sexy and funny, what's not to like? Well, since 1997 when first we met Dan and Larry, this kind of man has embedded himself in our body politic, elevated entitlement to a shameless and effective motivation and gaslighted a public who should know better but have become as dangerously transactional as Alice. When the lights went up, I was glad to leave their company behind and check my phone to confirm that the Prime Minister, a man half-Larry and half-Dan, really was gone. But, like those two, he couldn't resist leaving the door open for a return, the bastard. 

Marber injects piercing, cynical insights on romance, sex, power and, especially, selfishness into his tight, urgent script


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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