Donmar Warehouse, London

© Johan Persson

© Johan Persson

It seems no time at all since Patrick Marber took the lid off human relationships with Closer. 1997 – almost twenty years ago. At the time, with Dealer’s Choice and then Closer, Marber was firing on all cylinders. And Closer, you could argue, was the sparkiest of them all.

One of the first plays to put internet dating on stage in one of the funniest but dirtiest exchanges between two men, one posing as a woman, it brought the presentation of 20th century sexual relations bang up to date in theatrical terms as never before.

Seeing it again in David Leveaux’s Donmar revival – and coincidentally fascinatingly close to Jennifer Haley’s The Nether which takes us even further down the road of cybersex and internet persona swopping – Closer still seems prescient and pertinent.

The first half bubbles with sexual tension as two couples accidentally collide as strangers, become lovers, swap partners acrimoniously then return to each other only to part again.

Somehow, amongst all the emotional mayhem and fallout, Marber manages to make these lubricious close encounters funny as well as sexy, thanks in large measure to the iridescent chameleon that is Nancy Carroll who as Anna, a photographer, can spin emotions on a sixpence.

Sadly Leveaux’s production doesn’t always enhance Marber’s quick-fire dialogue with a staging that often leaves parts of the audience in frustration. Nor can the soulful eyes of Rufus Sewell entirely make up for a muted vocal delivery.

©Johan Persson

©Johan Persson

But Oliver Chris as a shambling journalist (working he tells us `in the Siberia of journalism, obituaries’) and Rachel Redford as Alice, the sometime stripper and ultimately, you come to think, the `victim’ of the piece, provide plenty of substance.

Despite the production’s shortcomings, such is Marber’s acuteness and brilliance in manoeuvring pieces around the dramatic chess board that Closer emerges once again as a wonderfully crafted observation of the desperate human desire for love and the destructiveness of jealousy.

In the end, Closer comes to seem more about selfishness and possession with sex, for all its obsessive attraction, merely a stepping stone. As Sewell’s Larry, a dermatologist succinctly puts it, `our flesh is ferocious. It will kill us.’

First published in Reviewsgate March 2015