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Schauspielgruppe

 

Closer and contemporary British drama

By Peter Paul Schnierer

After a decade that saw such blood-drenched, gruesome plays as Anthony Neilson’s Penetrator (1993) or Sarah Kane’s Blasted (1994), Patrick Marber’s Closer, first performed in 1997, seems positively tame. It contains no eye-gouging, no disembowelling, no cannibalism and hardly any bizarre sexual act. In fact, most of the subject matter that drew young, fearless and sometimes very strange audiences to the London theatres in the 1990s is missing in Closer. The only prima facie evidence that here we have indeed a contemporary play is the hard-hitting language that can at times sound as foul-mouthed as anything Neilson, Kane, Ravenhill or O’Rowe used and sometimes still use.

And yet, Closer is more disturbing, more drastic, more in-yer-face, to employ Aleks Sierz’ term, than most contemporary plays. Marber’s text disassembles the mechanics of human relationships with a relentlessness that has not been seen on the English stage since the heyday of Restoration comedy. The homology between this late 20th century play and the ruthless sexual comedies of the late 17th century is no coincidence: Like Wycherley, Behn, or Congreve, Marber presents both the co modification of love and the confusion engendered by newly found sexual possibilities in a manner that is profound, disturbing and hilarious at the same time.

In a way, Closer fulfils the promise of a cultural critique that is given in the title of Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking (1996), a promise never really made good in that much inferior play. Marber provides us with an evening of unsettling, literate entertainment. For that alone, his play has to be counted among the modern classics; it will continue to be revived when much of the 1990s shockfest is forgotten.

To tackle Closer at all is an ambitious project; to do so as a student drama group, in the words of another play much concerned with the recess of the heart, “cannot but yield you forth to public thanks”. Break a leg!

(The author is lecturer at the English Department, University of Heidelberg)