Any other play written in the late Nineties about love in the internet age may have lost its appeal in our time of Tinder and twenty four hour online connection. But David Leveaux’s welcome revival of Patrick Marber’s Closer at the Donmar proves that this one still has plenty to say, even if it says some of it on a painfully dated chatroom.
Once our four childless Londoners have met in bizarre circumstances (two at a car accident and two in the Aquarium), and have loosely arranged themselves into couples (stripper Alice with obituarist Dan and Doctor Larry with portrait photographer Nancy), the play begins in earnest. It works a lot like an intricate, partner-swapping square dance but it’s the opposite of civilised country fun to the gentle tune of a traditional fiddle. Their dance is urban and violent and, like almost every real-life relationship, incredibly messy.
Marber’s plot is meticulously plotted, weaving storylines carefully and deeply enough for them to be believable. Bunny Christie’s design is just as clever, projecting words and harsh light around the trendy furniture that fills the empty lives, the perfect backdrop against which the characters love, cheat and fight, littering the stage with heartbreaks and filling the air with heat-of-the-moment expletives. It’s obsessed with sex and with death: essentially Alice, Dan, Larry and Nancy are running round the city in circles chasing a truth they don’t really want to hear, trapped in another endless cycle of sex and violent break-ups, rolling round and round towards the grave that awaits them all.
It’s pretty morbid really, but the cast are so good it’s hard to care that Closer is destroying any positive perception of love the audience might have arrived with. Rufus Sewell is passionate and sinister as Larry, particularly good when he dissects his new wife’s infidelity with his medic’s precision like he’s sewing up a wound after surgery. Oliver Chris and Nancy Carroll get the play’s passion – so easily overdone – spot on but all are almost overshadowed by relative newcomer Rachel Redford. Alice is both a vulnerable tragic heroine and a strong independent woman not afraid to do what it takes to get what she wants and Redford manages this volatile mix with real command.
A human heart, Larry erupts during one of the play’s most tense scenes, “looks like a fist, wrapped in blood”. Closer certainly throws some tough punches but just when it has you on the ropes, feeling bruised and cynical about love, sex, romance and London, it rewards you with a truly amazing ending and the faint, desperate hope that perhaps this fistfight we call life isn’t all that bad after all.