The Same Deep Water As Me

Nick Payne

Donmar Warehouse

From 01 August 2013 to 28 September 2013

Review by Howard Loxton

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As I logged on to my computer to write this, I answered a ’phone call from an Indian voice who said he was calling from the “Accident Help Line”. It was about the motoring accident he understood I had. Now how could this guy, possibly in Delhi, know about that? Especially since I don’t have a car and the only road accident I’ve been involved in was as a passenger and decades ago!

We live in a compensation claimant culture that puts the blame on someone else and makes them pay for it and there are opportunist sharks around waiting to exploit things for their own ends. That is what Nick Payne’s new play is about.

Andrew Eagleman is a slightly dodgy solicitor specialising in personal injury claims. He is in the middle of a divorce and nearly lost his job through some previous misdemeanour but Barry Paterson, his kindly boss, gave him a second chance. Daniel May’s nervy, insecure Andrew is very different from Nigel Lindsay’s honest, easy-going Barry with his enthusiasm for unusual tisanes. Lindsay makes Barry paternally indulgent but suggests a certain admiration for the immediacy of Andrew’s live wire reactions, especially in an office where clients seem sparse.

When an old schoolmate comes in asking for representation as a claimant on a no-win, no-fee basis, Barry is suspicious but it doesn’t take much to get Andrew to take the case even though this is a slob who stole his girlfriend. Marc Wooton makes foul-mouthed Kevin Needleman so obnoxious he would not be unbelievable if we didn’t encounter the real thing all too often. He is one of those people who are bright and stupid at the same time and Wooton presents just that, seizing an idea and barging on without thinking beyond his nose.

When Andrew discovers it is all a scam, he’s already in deep water and goes along with it, dragging Barry with him right into court.

This savage picture of how easily a system is corrupted is also very funny, not least in Peter Forbes's brilliant playing of the wryly amused judge when it comes to court. As Kevin’s wife, pregnant and out of her depth in the witness box, Nicky Wardly manages to be simultaneously pathetic and funny. Isabella Laughland is the wide-eyed, unbelieving defendant. Payne exploits nerves in the witness box to great effect and pits Andrew’s panicky agitation against the smooth confidence of Monica Dolan’s defence lawyer, a picture of corporate power, representing her employer—she is also very funny earlier as a garrulous cabbie.

John Crowley’s direction suggests the pressures driving these people rather than condemning them for their actions and Scott Pask provides a setting of a realistically grotty office that turns into a smart court room with some deft stage management.

This is a topical play that questions contemporary ethics and aspirations for easy money while keeping that delicate balance between social critique and entertainment.