A group of friends gather in a house, drinks in hand, as one begins to tell a ghost story. The atmosphere is playful, vibrant and full of friendly bickering. Someone turns on the radio and they begin to dance. The throwaway abandon of youth is heavy in the air when suddenly, in the distance, an explosion breaks the night. The mood turns sombre, fearful and the frivolity that was so infectious quickly dissolves. This is life in Northern Ireland in 1977.
We meet Deidre (Emma Diaz), Jimmy (Raj Labade), Niamh (Mabel Li), Mary (Adriadne Sgouros) and Connor (Adam Sollis) having a few whiskeys at Deidre’s house to farewell Niamh before she heads to London. Long-time friends, the end of school brings with it endless possibility and there is a sense of anticipation for what’s to come.
The next time we see the friends it is 10 years later and much has changed, at least for some. Deidre is still in the same town, in the same house and we see her struggle as those around her move forward with their lives. But as much as things change and friends break away, the ties that bind remain strong and sometimes all it takes is a bit of time and a lot of whiskey to rediscover the people you used to be.
Set against the backdrop of The Troubles, Never Closer is a story of friendship, of possibility and missed opportunities, of grief and loss and the impact of generational trauma. It is both complicated and simple, heart-warming and heartbreaking, with a masterful script that will pull you in and offer you a drink.
The combination of a brilliant cast and intimate staging made the audience feel as if they too were seated in Deidre’s lounge room. The impact of this play would not have been as significant had it been performed in a larger space. Also credit to the entire cast who managed to sustain Northern Irish accents with a degree success for the duration of the play – this is no small feat.
The performers, including Philip Lynch as Harry, an Englishman who appears at Deidre’s 10 years later, were exceptional. It is a beautifully balanced ensemble cast who have an authentic chemistry that truly makes you believe they are childhood friends.
The delicate balance of light and dark throughout is a testament to the skill of writer Grace Chapple and Director Hannah Goodwin who manage to inject hilarity in unexpected places. In particular, Adriadne Sgouros and Philip Lynch were side – splittingly funny. Lynch’s use of physicality to enhance his character’s awkwardness was subtle but effective, and Sgouros possessed the comic timing of a seasoned professional.
Mabel Li and Adam Sollis do an incredible job at depicting a complicated dynamic. There is so much resentment and grief between them and the stark difference in their relationship after 10 years is distressing. It soon becomes apparent that beneath the anger is a deep sadness and watching these two characters find their way back to each other is incredibly moving.
This sense of longing is also created by Emma Diaz and Raj Labade, who dream about a better life and about each other. So incredible are these two actors that you find yourself invested in their futures. You want them to be happy. You feel as if you know them, as if these people are your friends.
Never Closer will touch your heart and leave you raw and open. Sitting in that theatre had all the feelings of coming home – the love and familiarity but also the realisation that life moves forward, even if we don’t want it to. A truly remarkable play that will make its mark and stay with you long after the lights go up.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Never Closer is enjoying performances at the Belvoir (25A) in Sydney until 16th October 2022. For more information and to buy tickets head to the Belvoir website.
Photos by Phil Erbacher. Reviewer attended on 8 October 2022.
Caption on Headline Photo: (L-R) Emma Diaz as Deidre, Adriadne Sgouros as Mary, Raj Labade as Jimmy and Mabel Li as Niamh. Photo: Phil Erbacher.