The Lyric Hammersmith's circle was steaming hot, but can the same be said about Closer, Patrick Marber's play about love, lust and lies?
Two men and two women form a love 'quadrangle': Dan (Jack Farthing) is an obituary writer, Anna is a photographer (Nina Toussaint-White), Larry (Sam Troughton) is a dermatologist, and Alice (Ella Hunt) is sometimes a waitress, sometimes a stripper.
The play opens with Dan and Alice meeting in a hospital. The latter has been knocked over by a taxi, and Dan, a witness to the accident, has accompanied her to get checked out.
It is the first random event that will eventually link the four and starts them on a journey of love pursuits and broken hearts (and egos).
Throwing away love
The problem Dan, Anna and Larry have is that they convince themselves they are chasing love and happiness, only to throw it all away when they get it.
Certainly, in the case of the men, it is quickly apparent that sexual desire is the driving force with infidelity never far away. Larry even likes to visit prostitutes and strip clubs and spends time in internet sex chat rooms while at work.
It is quite sad to watch them make the same mistakes over and over while kidding themselves they are being honest and truthful.
Alice is the only one who stays faithful, and while her feelings seem of the heart rather than physical, she isn't immune to lying - it's just about who she is.
Opulent or sleazy?
It's simply staged with a square performance space made of a red carpet positioned directly in the middle of the stage. There is a bench and sometimes a rich red curtain forms a panel at the back. It's the sort of red that can look opulent or sleazy - it's a fine line, a bit like the love and sex in the play.
There is a desk to one side of the performance space, which doubles as Larry's office, but at the back, there are drums and a keyboard on which musicians play snatches of familiar pop songs between scenes, except these are melancholy cover versions. It adds to the air of sadness.
Behind the musicians, a chorus act as background artists for scenes, albeit removed from the actual action. I mostly forgot they were there, so I'm not sure it added much.
Victor and victim
What did work really well were scenes where two conversations about a break-up are combined so that rather than a menage a trois, the 'spare' person in each looms as a symbolic reminder of how victor is also victim.
Given this is a play about love and lust, there is nothing really sexy about it. There is an element of the male gaze, and the serial cheating lends a sordid air to the melancholy tone. Steamy it isn't.
Rather fragile male egos give way to misogynistic language and violent behaviour.
I liked the tone of this production and the sense of sadness that underpinned it, even if I was glad to leave the characters behind. It is an interesting exploration of relationships with some nice production touches, and I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and half stars.
Closer, Lyric Hammersmith
Written by Patrick Marber
Directed by Clare Lizziemore
Running time: 2 and a half hours, including an interval.
Booking until 13 August, for more details, visit the Lyric Hammersmith website.
The Seagull, Harold Pinter Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️