The politics of desire

David Benedict finds `Closer' close to the bone

THEATRE Closer

Opera North at the Grand Theatre, Leeds

Alice is denigrating Dan's bad novel. "Why won't he write about something that will hurt him? He won't go near himself." The same cannot be said for Patrick Marber, whose latest play has the dangerous feel of autobiography. Unlike most of the vogue-ish "boy's own" playwrights, Marber isn't tossing off a dialogue-driven slice of life with little moral responsibility. After a brilliant debut with Dealer's Choice, the tough-minded Closer strips men's behaviour bare and you sense he is refreshingly ready to implicate himself in the process.

This is a Nineties sex comedy but it's far from being an updated Move Over Mrs Markham. British naughtiness and innuendo have been banished. Instead, there are echoes of Pinter's Betrayal or a London take on Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago as we follow the interlocked loves and lies of a quartet of characters caught in an almost ritualistic dance of desire. In the opening scene, Dan has taken a young woman he has accidentally saved from being run over to Barts' casualty department. Tersely questioned by the unnervingly confrontational Alice (excellent Liza Walker) he reveals himself to be in the dying business. He writes obituaries in which he enjoys slipping in euphemisms like "`Valued his privacy': means he was gay; enjoyed his privacy: he was a raging queen.'" From here on, the language is strikingly direct. By the end of the short scene, these two strangers are alive with sexual tension as she tells him what men want: "Girls who look like boys so that men can protect them ... she must come like a train. But with elegance."

We next meet them when Dan is having his book-jacket photo taken by Anna to whom he is instantly attracted. She resists, but he impersonates her when doing cyber-sex on the Web by talking extremely dirty and setting her up with Larry, a bullish dermatologist. This virtually silent scene is shockingly funny and a brilliant illustration of all that Marber does best. The men's fingers rattle out sex on to the keyboards (and on to a screen on the back wall of Vicki Mortimer's set) but he is actually forcing us to read the subtext. The explosive drama of the scene is all in the gap between what the characters are saying and what they actually mean.

Marber writes (and directs) with a scalpel, peeling back layers and cutting effortlessly to the quick. Scenes start immediately with no preamble and you feel the audience hanging upon the words as Marber brutally exposes male manipulation and the desire for honesty in intimate relationships which charges through the play. Appalled by Anna's betrayal, Larry drowns himself in truth, demanding ever-more humiliating details of her sexual behaviour with which to flagellate himself and humiliate her. The scene is very tense and extremely violent but only in terms of language. Throughout the play the characters hardly touch each other.

The writing is so accomplished, it seems almost unfair to point to its faults. The atmosphere is heavy with symbols. The characters' professions alone feel contrived: a stripper, a photographer (exposure), a doctor and a obituarist (mortality). More worryingly, the couples switch so many times we begin to lose faith in the characters. "You see love like a diagram," says Dan and the thought steals over you, does Marber? For all that, this pungently funny, powerfully acted play is essential viewing.

In rep, National Theatre, Cottesloe, London SE1 (0171-928 2252)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices