14 July 2022
CLOSER (Hammersmith Lyric Theatre) Review

It looks like Patrick Marber’s Closer is being revived for the 25th anniversary of its premiere.  Moreover, it won the Olivier, Evening Standard, and Critics Circle awards that year (and was followed 7 years later by an Hollywood movie version with an all-star cast).  I had to look this up twice to make sure I had it right.  Seriously?  This play won awards???

Without getting into great detail so not to ruin the plot for those unfamiliar with it, it’s a story of 4 people (a woman knocked down by a cab, a man who comes to her rescue, a hospital doctor, and a photographer) who randomly run into each other in life.  From there, it’s everyone sleeping with everyone and moaning about how they are disappointed by things in a way that’s neither a comedy nor a drama.

Obviously everyone is a critic, and everyone has their own likes and dislikes, so any review is always subjective.  But the entire play has no point other than being gratuitously vulgar, which is probably my biggest gripe about it.  I am not a fan of vulgarity in general, but even that would be fine if there was a point to it.  Sadly, there isn’t any.  The more crass the dialogue gets, the less point there is to it.  The play is slow and predictable (from about 15 minutes onwards).  It’s neither smart nor clever, and I cannot fathom how it scooped up all those awards.  That said, this is meant to be a review of the production, not the play itself, so we crack on.

The acting is alright.  The absolute highlight of the evening was Sam Troughton as Larry, who felt the most like a real-life boy.  He has a wonderfully expressive face, and I could totally see someone in his situation react the way he did.  Nina Toussaint-White as Anna was cold and distant throughout.  With everyone chasing after her, I had to wonder what the big deal is, as she was both emotionless and expressionless.  Jack Farthing as Dan was bland and devoid of any personality.  Ella Hunt as Alice, who I think is meant to be the most sympathetic of them all, doesn’t show enough character development to get to that point.  None of it is bad, but it’s also not much to write home about.

The play is staged over an open set (by Soutra Gilmour).  It was nice to to actually see the musicians on display.  Years ago I saw Bull at Young VIc, also directed by Clare Lizzimore, and enjoyed it quite a lot.  I have mixed feelings about the direction here.  Although he didn’t originate it, it was Jamie Lloyd who popularised the “everyone remains on stage so we know you matter to the conversation” approach in recent years.  There was a bit of that here in several scenes, most notably when Larry, Anna, and Dan are sat at the same table whilst representing separate meetings of Anna/Larry and Anna/Dan.  The light shows one man and hides the other as the two meetings unfold.  Some of the imagery is so heavy-handed, you have to wonder about how little faith Lizzimore has in the audience.  There is a scene of Alice in a museum, so the stage hands wheel out a glass display cabinet.  Could be anything in there really:  birds, art, you name it.  But no, it’s a doll that has seen better days, right next to Alice, no less, who herself is not much more than a man’s toy who has seen better days and is trapped in her present life.  Ahem.

I found myself being rather annoyed by the audience:  for most of the performance it felt like people around me thought they were sat at home on the sofa watching TV:  there was loud whispering throughout the play from different corners of the auditorium.  Some of the reactions were also fairly perplexing…  At the start of the play, Alice reaches into a bag, pulls out a sandwich wrapped in foil, gives it a sniff (without much of a facial expression, mind you), and puts it back.  Lots of laughter from the audience.  Why?  What’s so funny about a woman unwrapping and rewrapping a sandwich????  Similarly, there is a scene later in the play that’s meant to be of some intensity (although I didn’t think the acting was quite there) where one of the characters (so not to give it away) is visibly upset at the other one, with the latter screaming, “hit me, hit me, hit me!”.  And yet when the former does strike out, the entire audience gasped.  Seriously?  Were we not supposed to see it coming?

In a word, a bit of a disappointment really.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: -£5.

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