David Lewis finds delicious, lascivious entertainment in Patrick Marber's award-winning play

Torture may be prohibited under international law and the domestic laws of most countries but try telling that to the bed-hopping couples in Patrick Marber’s Closer.

Indulging in ‘exquisite deceits’, these lovers inflict pain and suffering on each other in a manner worthy of the Inquisition.

The characters in Marber’s play, which won an Olivier for ‘Best New Play’ in 1997 and was made into a film in 2004 by Mike Nichols, are relentlessly shallow.

Reserved obituary writer Dan strikes up an unlikely relationship with a disarming American stripper Alice. Into their lives come randy dermatologist Larry and his divorcee girlfriend Anna, and so the messy marital games begin.

Marber’s message is that the ‘currency of the world is lying’, that sex is the driver, that our basest desires will bring us down time and time again. He acknowledges that as individuals we have a choice but doesn’t give any of his characters the ability to choose restraint. Temptation always triumphs, whatever the consequences. As Dan admits in despair: ‘Everybody learns, nobody changes.’

This Rawlife production is not for a maiden aunt – C and F-words abound, with lashings of sex talk and a dash of nudity for good measure – but hey, we’re all adults here and the play is no longer particularly shocking.

Maybe it has dated a little. The infamous internet chat room scene, where Dan, pretending to be an epically breasted woman, types Larry into onanistic nirvana, now feels de rigeur. Yet Marber’s definition of the internet as ‘two boys tossing in cyberspace’ still has a ring of truth.

The play flies or flops on the chemistry between the four actors. The women are particularly good – Tessa Nicholson, returning to Belfast, gives a peppy performance as Alice and Stephanie Weyman is a smooth and alluring Anna. Paddy Jenkins convinces as the wounded Alpha male Larry, prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to salve his pride, yet only damaging himself further in the process.

It would be easy to overplay Closer, to turn the love and hatred into hysteria, but director Martin McSharry’s production goes the other way. It’s too low key for its own good, and at times feels rather static. The joy of the Baby Grand is that the actors can get up close and personal with the audience. While you can see the spittle sizzle, this production never really jolts us in our seats, nor makes us uncomfortable to be witnessing these intimate, tortuous moments.

Partly the fault lies with Marber. Closer’s emotional punch is minimal, because, quite frankly, you don’t give a damn about any of the characters. They fuck each other and fuck each other up. So what? They deserve what they get.

That said, the evening never dips beneath delicious, lascivious entertainment. Rawlife is dedicated to encouraging non-theatre going audiences to try the theatre. As Dan states, ‘Life without risk is death’. So why not let temptation win out and take a risk with Closer? Within reason of course… 

Closer plays at The Baby Grand, Belfast, until March 1.