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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Donmar Warehouse


  Daniel Mays and Mark Wootton/ Ph: Johan Persson

Personal injury lawyers, with their aggressively beguiling "no win, no fee" pitches, personify the insidious compensation culture in a social comment comedy that is both sharply observed and very funny. It seems a surprising subject for Nick Payne, whose award-winning Constellations was a clever, movingcontemplation of love and quantum physics, and whose earlier work sympathetically focused on self-esteem and relationship anxieties. Not yet 30, Payne’s work keeps growing in assurance and sophistication without losing sight of the humanity in his characters, even the begging-to-be-satirized targets in Deep Water.
The unprepossessing setting is the drab, downmarket law office of Scorpion Claims in Luton, an airport town 30 miles north of London. There the widowed Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and his junior partner Andrew (Daniel Mays) endeavour to keep their heads above water with “where there’s blame there’s a claim” cases, even to courting a client whose shaving slip-up they consider attributing to the negligence of Gillette. Enter an unwelcome figure from Andrew’s past, the boorish, bullying Kevin (Marc Wootton), married to Andrew’s onetime sweetheart, who tells a sketchy tale of vehicular misfortune he reckons can be parlayed into an easy windfall. Barry, whose modest pleasure is brewing bizarre blends of tea, may not be the most discriminating of legal minds, but he does have integrity, recognizes Kevin’s story for what it is – a complete fabrication – and elects to pass. But Andrew, feeling his personal failures and the economic pinch badly, is drawn into Kevin’s proposed scheme of staging road accidents. The notion is to create collisions with delivery trucks from large supermarket chains that tend, supposedly, to settle insurance disputes quickly out of court. Before long, Andrew is masterminding the operation in late-night briefings with the dim but determined Kevin and conspirators when the oblivious Barry is out of the way.
Inevitably the day comes when a firm does contest a claim, necessitating court appearances, the unwitting complicity of an anxious Barry, Andrew desperately fighting for his professional life, and a plausibly pitiful tale of woe from the irredeemably belligerent Kevin and his terrified wife. The cynicism is bang on, and the play gets funnier and funnier the more the preposterous charade seems to be unraveling. John Crowley’s direction and spot-on, neatly nuanced performances pick up on the fears and desperation in these all-too-recognizable people who justify lies and fraud from an aggrieved sense of deserving better than they are getting. Even the obnoxious Kev may be a brazen thug, but the brashly engaging Wootton’s face turning red with outrage elicits if not sympathy an embarrassed empathy for him, while Mays and Lindsay both beautifully convey Andrew and Barry as men who are not greedy but defeated.

Other members of the small ensemble nimbly double roles, most notably Monica Dolan’s sensational switch from her coarse, chatty cabbie of act one into act two’s soignée, scathingly witty opposing attorney. Young Isabella Laughland’s one big scene as the delivery van driver blamed for the alleged accident is a frank, indignant and screamingly funny showstopper of a turn on the witness stand. Laughland, a Harry Potter alumna who first scored in Payne’s Wanderlust, is one to watch. Payne, we are already watching with ever-growing admiration and anticipation of things to come.


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