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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Donmar Warehouse


  Nancy Carroll/ Ph: Johan Persson

“Hello, stranger.” Patrick Marber’s cruel, tender dissection of love and sex in London begins with a chance encounter that’s caused by a traffic accident, and will impact the lives of four urbanites with similarly devastating force. A hit for the National Theatre in 1997, the play became one of the decade’s most memorable new works. Now, in this major revival by David Leveaux, it proves as disturbing, sharp-witted and penetrating as ever. It’s both hot and cold, tough and delicate, desperately sad and wickedly funny. And the performances, choreographed with highly charged precision by Wayne McGregor, are piercingly pitch-perfect.
Dan (Oliver Chris), a slightly sardonic, emotionally remote obituaries writer, plucks spiky, vital, young Alice (Rachel Redford), a waitress and sometime-stripper, off the road after she’s knocked down by a taxi. He’s not single – but their meeting has a distinct, dangerous, erotic undercurrent, and they become lovers. At the hospital, they collide with Larry (Rufus Sewell), an arrogant dermatologist. Later, Dan meets Anna (Nancy Carroll), a photographer, when his first novel, inspired by Alice, is published and she takes his portrait for the dust jacket. Their professions – with their connections to skin and surface, to death and borrowed lives – are rich in symbolic inference. And Marber has a keen eye for the impish caprices of fate. This cat’s cradle of crossing paths would remain inconsequential if it weren’t for a coincidence that, in what was the play’s most groundbreaking ingenious scene, takes place online: Dan, rebuffed by Anna at their photo session, makes mischief in an adults-only hook-up chatroom, borrowing Anna’s identity to pose as a woman. Larry falls for a joke that is, ultimately, on Dan, when it leads to Larry and Anna’s liaison and subsequent relationship.
That sequence, in which the filthy dialogue skittters, unvoiced, across a giant monitor screen, is brilliant in its acuity and economy as it lays bare the dirty dynamics of male fantasy and power play. But as the couples connect, disconnect and reconfigure in a complex dance of deception and manipulation, there’s scarcely a moment that doesn’t reverberate with painful, and sometimes painfully funny, truth. Bunny Christie’s set, with its glowing neon columns, eliding street scenes in slick video imagery, and bare brick, conjures a kaleidoscopic sense of the city, centring on the illuminated plaques of East London’s Postman’s Park – that Victorian churchyard tribute to ordinary heroism, where the otherwise unremarked lives of those who died to save others are commemorated. And the face-offs between these people who claim to love one another are brutal and eviscerating. Redford is a poignant blend of abrasiveness and vulnerability, Chris a lankily attractive, maddeningly selfish and mole-ishly emotionally myopic Dan, and Sewell a simmering, hard-edged Larry whose pursuit and punishing of Carroll’s coolly elegant, sensual and intelligent Anna is particularly savage. Pitilessly astute, and quite devastating.


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