The Orange Tree Theatre in a co-production with English Touring Theatre could hardly have expected that renewed police investigations into the mysterious disappearance of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh would coincide with their 30th anniversary revival of Martin Crimp’s Dealing with Clair. Yet such is the nature of chance occurrences that the two are now running together.
A clean-cut, startlingly relevant and linguistically intriguing production.
On the surface, Crimp’s Play is a straightforward, comical story of a couple trying to sell their house. Mike (Tom Mothersdale) and Liz (Hara Yannis) engage estate agent Clair (Lizzy Watts). Ostensibly taking the moral high ground at a time when gazumping was in its infancy, they want to be the decent and honourable vendors who will take the first genuine offer that comes along at their asking price. Their integrity soon begins to wane as they enter a dual world of ethical pretence while succumbing to the lure of money as the price effortlessly goes up. Distant buyers are abandoned with feigned reluctance as a local cash offer is placed on the table by James (Michael Gould).
Niggling, and increasingly uncomfortable undercurrents undermine the decency of all the noble protestations. Even though Liz doesn’t work, an au pair is employed to care for the newly arrived baby. Anna (Roseanna Frascona), is accommodated in what they boast of as the fourth bedroom, though it has no windows. She is clearly paid a minimal wage and treated with some disdain. The looks given to women by both Mike and James often seem less than wholesome and the situation is not helped by their frequently suggestive language. Frank’s knowledge of Claire’s circumstances and where she lives becomes increasingly disturbing, leading up to her disappearance.
Crimp’s masterful handling of language consistently leaves things up the air and subject to speculation. Conversations are anything but open and up front. Instead vagaries, misinterpretations and misunderstandings abound. Notwithstanding, the dialogues ring true. There is a reality in the estate agent speak that Watts so eloquently delivers, carrying off the part with great aplomb and credibility while demonstrating the strain of having to put on an act in front of her clients. Mothersdale and Yannas are confident and powerful in their delivery, yet at the same time nervous, tentative and exploratory as they enter uncharted water with what often amounts to little more than ramblings. Gould initially charms with the likeability of a gentleman. He never really loses it and it is probably the secret to his manipulative powers. Yet he incrementally arouses suspicion as being less than trustworthy, ultimately becoming a worryingly creepy presence. Frascona meanwhile happily deals with the secrets and lies necessary to bring some joy to her secluded existence while Gabriel Akuwudike completes the cast by successfully and distinctively performing a trio of minor characters.
Richard Twyman’s sharp no-nonsense direction highlights Crimps text, while the gauze cube set by Fly Davis suggests a special world in which transactions of this sort take place, without distracting. A reminder that all is probably not well comes from the haunting interludes of sound designer and composer Alexandra Faye Braithwaite. It’s a clean-cut, startlingly relevant and linguistically intriguing production.