Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 4 – 16, 2022
Playwright: Grace Chapple
Director: Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Emma Diaz, Raj Labade, Mabel Li, Philip Lynch, Ariadne Sgouros, Adam Sollis
Images by Phil Erbacher
Niamh returns to her hometown in Northern Ireland for Christmas, and finds that all her old friends from school are still there. It is 1987, and there are certainly compelling reasons to go search for greener pastures, but in Grace Chapple’s Never Closer, we explore the nature of human attachments, and what it is that makes us persist, or indeed relinquish. Chapple’s writing bears a generosity that lends a sense of sophistication, to a tale about the difficult decisions that people make. It is intricately considered, with an admirable sensitivity as she navigates some hard subjects, but made palatable by an effortless humour, that keeps the journey amusing.
Direction by Hannah Goodwin leans into the comedy of the piece, relishing in each of its funny details, whilst painstakingly creating for the audience, a realism that makes everything feel authentic and convincing. There are six distinct personalities in Never Closer, all of whom are made believable and endearing by Goodwin’s uncompromising approach, of making each moment count.
It is a splendid ensemble cast that tells the story, with an incredible chemistry that makes all that they offer up, feel meaningful and true. Mabel Li demonstrates great versatility as Niamh, seamless in the way she blends the comical with the earnest, in a show that really succeeds in being tender and hilarious both at once. Adam Sollis is charged with the responsibility of instigating some very bombastic drama, as Connor, which he accomplishes with a natural ease. Emma Diaz as Deirdre and Raj Labade as Jimmy, deliver nuances throughout, that seem subtle yet are palpably moving. Philip Lynch as Harry and Ariadne Sgouros as Mary, are bold with their desire to make us laugh, and they never miss a beat.
Stage design by Grace Deacon takes us decades back in time, impressive particularly with the many smaller household items that look completely to be from a bygone era. Costumes by Keerthi Subramanyam offer a constant reminder that the story is of a time past, even if the characters feel so present and intimate. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights and Alyx Dennison’s sounds, work quietly to manufacture a familiar domestic environment, but are certainly powerful when required to cause a ruckus.
As the saying goes, “the world is your oyster” and for the young, that is especially true. To see Niamh’s friends unwilling (or perhaps unable) to leave home, feels a sad waste of opportunity, but it should probably only be for each individual, to lay judgement on how one’s time on earth is spent. Many have stayed put, and accomplished much. Others have travelled far and wide, and seen all there is. In Never Closer we are shown that not all our destinies are reliant on personal decisions. Often where we go, is animated by circumstance, but only becoming apparent with the passage of time.