Never Closer – 25A, Belvoir St Theatre (NSW)

Written by Grace Chapple, Directed by Hannah Goodwin

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

World Premiere
4th-16th October
25A Theatre, Belvoir Street
Tickets: https://belvoir.com.au/productions/never-closer/

Possible spoilers ahead for Never Closer

Grace Chapple’s award-winning new work, Never Closer, is my favourite type of play. Old friends reunite after a lengthy period, some have changed significantly over time, others have not. In the length of time since meeting some sort of tension has developed, and after a night of drinking it all bubbles to the surface in dramatic fashion. Throw in a historic backdrop and relevant subtext and this is one night of theatre I will gladly attend again and again.

Set around separate Christmas Eve’s in 1977 and 1987, right in the midst of an Ireland torn by conflict of The Troubles, a small collection of childhood friends gathers to farewell Niamh (Mabel Li) as she chooses to daringly leave for the metropolis of London.

Relationships and characters were established to develop the bond of the five friends as they sing and naively make promises that things won’t change. Emma Diaz’s Deidre and Raj Labade’s will-they-won’t-they romance is hinted at, Adam Sollis’ Connor soaks up the last moments with partner Niamh, and Ariadne Sgouros’ larger than life Mary is thrown into the mix to comedic effect. Then Chapple lurches us forward 10 years and I shifted in my seat and readied myself for the relationships to morph and the conflict to brew.

Deirdre lives the same life, besides the house becoming a bit more ragged, she doesn’t seem to have moved in the past 10 years. One by one, our old friends are reintroduced either by fate or coincidence and at first it seems like this will just be another quiet Christmas. That is until eloquent British accents waft through Deirdre’s front door with the return of Niamh and her English fiancé Harry (Philip Lynch). In bringing this new character in, Chapple throws the characters in turmoil as they are forced to confront the very ideals they have been positioned to be against.

Solli’s Connor brings the scene into a total gearshift as the sheer brashness of his disapproval and anger comes to the forefront and was a credit to Connor’s performance. Not only is Harry symbolic of the conflict faced by the families of these characters, but he is also blissfully unaware of the history of the land he stands on. It’s a suitable reference to an idea of colonisation beyond Australian shores.

Set design by Grace Deacon and Lighting by Phoebe Pilcher allowed us to be pressed up against the fourth wall. Soft lighting made the small house comfortable yet confining and the conflict of The Troubles felt to me like a world away, until it all came rushing back to the forefront. It’s a surreal experience that gave the true definition of realism in the intimate space.

This allowed director Hannah Goodwin to dive headfirst into unpacking each of Chapple’s characters. Goodwin’s handiwork is shown in the chemistry and humour in each of the characters, with the tension rising and falling like a rollercoaster I never wanted to get off. Goodwin manages to extract the yearning from each of her actors, whether it be for an unrequited love, a new future or a return to the past.

This is a gem that shows the power and beauty in supporting new pieces of work from an independent team.

Lynch’s Harry is every bit an Eddie Redmayne-esque Englishman. He’s dorky, awkward, and innocently ignorant of the inner relationships of the people in front of him. Not only that, but he is hilariously funny. It may be a cliché of me to say he was my favourite character, but my love of British comedy compels me to.

As the peacekeeper, Sgouros bounced joyfully between each of the characters, putting out fires one by one, while also burying her own anguish underneath layers of Jamieson. Diaz’ Deirdre was an anchor for the piece, her unwillingness to move beyond her four walls leaked into the main conflict on stage. Labade’s Jimmy felt subdued, his defeat from his lot in life and his desire to follow in the footsteps of Mary and Niamh abundantly clear. Li’s shift from Irish hometown girl to her thick British accented Niamh allowed for the conflict to organically begin boiling.

There was a lot to unpack when writing this review of Never Closer, mostly due to the length of the piece that could have done with cutting down parts to sustain the conflict throughout. As one scene seemed to bring a large portion of the story to a close, another event happens which propelled the story forward. While this was mostly done to allow our audience time to breath, it left me wondering what else could possibly have come next.

This is a gem that shows the power and beauty in supporting new pieces of work from an independent team. The show is perhaps nothing shockingly new in ways of its formula, but this isn’t to say it doesn’t offer something new as well. Never Closer is artfully written, with characters worn comfortably by their performers and direction that has a firm hand on brewing the tension like a softly boiling kettle of tea with an added dash of the Irish to make you laugh again and again.


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CREATIVES
Director: Hannah Goodwin
Writer: Grace Chapple
Producer: Zoë Hollyoak
Set Designer: Grace Deacon
Lighting Designer: Phoebe Pilcher
Costume Designer: Keerthi Subramanyam
Sound Designer: Alyx Dennison
Vocal Coach: Laura Farrell
Fight & Intimacy Coordinator: Nigel Poulton
Stage Manager: Darcy Catto-Pitkin
Images by Phil Erbacher

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