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Nobody writes about human obsession like Patrick Marber. He’s probably the only English writer alive who can make sex seem genuinely sexy, because it always feels dangerous. His characters screw each other then screw each other over. And though frequently hilarious, it’s always horribly, gut-wrenchingly truthful. In his best play, ‘Closer’, four emotional fuck-ups try to reinvent themselves in London and find themselves swallowed whole by the city: it’s an erotic, hilarious, despairing tribute to the capital and the greatest play ever written about the Big Smoke.
So where’s Marber been for the last ten years? ‘I loved the ’90s!’ he chuckles when I meet him at the National Theatre. ‘It was the noughties I didn’t like.’ In the ’90s he was unstoppable: he helped write genius TV satire ‘The Day Today’ with Chris Morris, and had hits with his first three plays, ‘Dealer’s Choice’, ‘After Miss Julie’ and his masterpiece ‘Closer’. Then he moved to rural Sussex and it all stopped. For ages.
‘I couldn’t write in the country,’ he says. ‘It’s too beautiful.’ But now he’s back. And how. You wait ages for one Patrick Marber play, then three come along at once. After a decade of bucolic block, he’s now in the bizarre position of having a trio of plays on at the National Theatre at once. Excellent football satire ‘The Red Lion’ was an NT commission; there’s also an updated version of restoration comedy ‘The Beaux’ Stratagem’, and an adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s comedy ‘A Month in the Country’ – re-dubbed ‘Three Days in the Country’. The last is the NT’s summer blockbuster, starring John Simm and Mark Gatiss. Marber is also directing. ‘It’s a story about people going quietly mad in the country,’ he says. ‘I could write about that because I’d done it.’
Committing to three plays after a decade unable to complete one is clearly a bit mad in itself (though ‘The Beaux’ Stratagem’ and ‘The Red Lion’ have had great reviews). I get the real impression that Marber worries that no one will want to employ him again. ‘I felt terror, but abandon as well,’ he says. ‘I thought: I’ll go down all guns blazing.’ One of our greatest playwrights has returned. Though possibly only for a bit.
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