Patrick Marber’s Closer celebrates its 25th anniversary with an occasionally muddled but very strongly cast production at the Lyric Hammersmith
“What do you want?
‘To be loved.’
‘It’s a big want.’”
As Patrick Marber’s play Closer marks its 25th anniversary, it’s a worth a quick look at the calibre of actor it has managed to attract over the years. It opened at the National with Clive Owen, Liza Walker, Sally Dexter and Ciarán Hinds, with Neil Dudgeon and Mark Strong stepping for the transfer from Cottesloe to Lyttelton; Lloyd Owen, Frances Barber and Neil Pearson joined Walker for the West End transfer the following year. Rupert Graves, Anna Friel and Natasha Richardson joined Hinds for the move to Broadway the year after that. And there’s the small matter of the film which starred Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Natalie Portman with a returning Owen (C).
Nancy Carroll, Oliver Chris, Rachel Redford and Rufus Sewell did it for the Donmar in 2015 (the only production I’ve seen) and now it is the turn of Jack Farthing, Ella Hunt, Nina Toussaint-White, and Sam Troughton who star in Clare Lizzimore’s production for the Lyric Hammersmith. And perhaps conscious of this storied production history, and definitely aware of the age of the writing, her directorial concept is a fascinating way of staging what is essentially now a period piece (if 1997 were a period!), even if elements of its storytelling about the damage surrendering to lust can do remain pertinent a quarter-century down the line.
The play is a whirlwind of kinda-meet-cutes, relationships, marriages, affairs, internet chatrooms as four London strangers get tangled into a web of destructive desire. I’d forgotten just how bleakly drawn these characters are, deception and cruelty as second nature as they each pursue their carnal urges with little regard for how they’re treating whoever is their other half at that point. It is sharp and savvy but somewhat underwrites its female characters so Hunt in particularly has to work hard to round out Alice’s persona. Sam Troughton excels as Larry, spiralling towards rage in contrast to Jack Farthing’s chilliness as the calculating Dan and Nina Toussaint-White impresses as Anna.
Around them, Lizzimore introduces a lot more into her production and it isn’t all hugely successful. A black-clad chorus or shadow cast (Kane Feagan, Georgia-Rose Oliver, Sam Purkis and Wilf Walsworth) haunt the background with occasional mirroring but no real impact. And insistent musical interludes (from the onstage Radhika Aggarwal and Arun Ghosh) drive home the 90s references whilst the bare bones of Soutra Gilmour’s set lay open the theatrical machinery here. Altogether, it muddles the tone in a way that isn’t necessarily needed given the bracing fresh air of the brusqueness at hand here, which ultimately feels more honest about sex than most writers achieve.