Closer @ Putney Arts Theatre, London

cast list
Michelle Frances
Antony Law
Garth Wright
Catherine Allison

directed by
Tony de Vizio
Patrick Marber’s darkly comic, intelligent four-hander about love, lust and betrayal has had a phenomenal impact for a play written as recently as 1997. A Hollywood adaptation has just finished shooting – Jude Law and Clive Owen have been glimpsed filming in Postman’s Park and various locations around the city of London – and this production by Chelsea Players at Putney’s intimate Arts Theatre is an excellent opportunity to view it on stage before this big screen version etches itself on our consciousness.

Dan, an obituary writer and aspiring novelist, plays white knight to Alice’s damsel, ferrying her to A&E after she steps out in front of a taxi. Alice is a walking question mark, a former stripper not inclined to discuss her past. She’s needy, forward and unknowable, and Dan is initially besotted. But as their relationship progresses he soon becomes complacent, finding himself attracted to Anna, the beautiful professional photographer who takes the picture for his book jacket.

In the play’s funniest scene, the already notorious moment where Dan indulges in a little online foreplay whilst pretending to be Anna, we meet the final member of this quartet – Larry, an ambitious doctor. The resulting meeting between the hopeful and horny Larry and the understandably confused Anna marks the beginning of a relationship that eventually leads to marriage. However neither couple are content for long and, as time passes, their lives become increasingly entangled; betrayals become inevitable.

Marber has said in interview that “there’s no such thing as an honest relationship.” And that’s certainly the case in Closer. None of the characters is completely truthful – they’re all lying both to each other and to themselves in one form or another. Ultimately, it’s the men that bear the brunt of Marber’s pen; both Dan and Larry have a cold, cruel streak, both are capable of being selfish and manipulative. They’re difficult roles to pull off, but both Antony Law as Dan and Garth Wright as Larry manage to generate some sympathy for their respective characters, and made the audience care as their relationships crumble due to their actions.

The other performances are equally assured. Catherine Allison as the enigmatic Alice has the perfect balance of coquettishness and vulnerability; Michelle Frances does wonders with a less showy role, and it’s down to the writing rather than her performance that Anna, with her ever-present guidebook, remains as unknowable as the damaged Alice.

Intelligently directed by Tony de Vizio, the staging was simple but effective. Shifts in time, both of hours and months were elegantly handled, in particular during the caf scene where Anna serves Larry with divorce papers. What first night glitches there were the cast sailed through with admirable skill.

Towards the end of the evening Larry describes the heart as “a fist covered in blood.” It’s a fitting image for a play such as this; beneath the smart, cynical and blackly comic surface of Closer lies a drama that is both raw and human.

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