Library Theatre, Manchester
Rating: ****

In the three years since it first appeared, Patrick Marber's viciously funny play has become a modern classic, picking up a batch of awards while continuing to shock audiences with its candid look at lust and infidelity. Chris Honer's sharp production features a post-industrial set of pillars and slats that looks like the downstairs bar in the now-defunct Hacienda down the road. Indeed, this is theatre for the clubbing generation, and the between-set music and video graphics would work as well in any chill-out room. This streetwise edge may give the play a young urban credibility, but the strength of the writing is such that the context is not as important as it first seems. Even the hilarious internet-sex scene feels timeless.

Marber's lines have all the urgency and spit of a stand-up routine, but allied to this fervour is a deep awareness of how people relate to each other. Closer is all about people coming together and coming apart, and we see the often desperate first meetings and always desperate endings of all four characters' relationships. Emma Cleasby catches nicely the childlike sarcasm and sneer of Alice, the play's siren and cipher, "the belle of the bullshit", who undergoes more transformations than any other character: from street-kid casual to evening-gown elegance to gold-lamé lap-dancer and pyjama-clad girl. Perhaps, though, Cleasby's delivery is a little muffled beneath Alice's shifting insecurities.

Closer asks if love is anything more than narcissism and the need for reassurance. And when you consider the men in the play you would have to say no. Julian Protheroe, as obituary writer Dan, gives a fine performance, at first all clean heels and assertiveness but soon reduced to blubbering and hitting out.

As the quartet's love lives become ever more despairing and entangled, the power oscillates between the needy and the needed until you're not too sure who's manipulating who. Christian Burgess is excellent as the suave doctor, Larry, whose insecurity is easily piqued, while Julie Riley is equally assured as the sophisticated Anna, perhaps the only character not to unravel altogether . By the end of the play, you're sure to feel exhausted, enlightened and a little relieved. But then breaking up is hard to do.

Until November 25. Box office: 0161-236 7110.


James Hopkin

The GuardianTramp

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