Payne's Same Deep Water splits critics
Nick Payne's new play, set in the world of 'no win, no fee' lawyers, premiered this week (6 August) at the Donmar Warehouse and sharply divided critical opinion
… The dialogue is peppered with laughs… if Simon Pegg and Nick Frost wrote a play it might sound something like this… Mays lends Andrew a poignant sense of naivety. Though he doesn't entirely convince as a man able to carry out fraud on a mass scale, nevertheless his inability to admit lying about the scheme to Lindsay's patriarchal Barry betrays the tragedy at his core… But for all its enjoyability I question whether The Same Deep Water As Me will stand the test of time. It feels a touch too light, ephemeral even, and for all its highlighting of the unique cultural phenomenon of 'no win, no fee', it never really gets to the root of what has got our society into such deep water in the first place.
… Payne touches on questions of class and language, and speaks about the potential for small lies to turn into big dramas. But he is at his best when dealing with embarrassment. He has a flair for one-liners yet also takes a wry pleasure in recurring jokes — among them a lovely gag about a malfunctioning fan. Aside from the weak closing scene, this is an assured offering from a playwright who combines shrewd observation with an ability to make us squirm. He's well served by director John Crowley. But it is Payne's gift for characterisation and funny, unsettling images that impresses most.
… I preferred it to his prize-winning Constellations… Part of the charm of the play is how it takes us into a world we don't often see on stage: not just of contrived accidents and civil cases conducted on a no-win, no-fee basis, but also of people struggling to make a living... Even if there is a glaring implausibility in the resolution of the court case, John Crowley's production rightly presents it as a play about people living on the edge of desperation. There are also immaculate performances from Daniel Mays as the nervy, quixotic Andrew, Nigel Lindsay as the life-bruised Barry, Marc Wootton as the thuggish claimant, and Monica Dolan doubling hilariously as an anecdotal cabbie and a power-dressed lawyer whose very soul seems to be well-ironed.
… though the play is carefully researched and often mildly entertaining – the dramatist has a particularly good ear for quirky one-liners – it never achieves dramatic lift-off, still less becomes a potent metaphor for the grubby materialistic times in which we live… everything plods along and the play's structure is mess… Director John Crowley does what he can for this lame duck of a play, and the performances are often excellent. Daniel Mays is memorably dark and devious as Andrew, Nigel Lindsay brings a battered decency to the stage as his colleague and Marc Wootton presents us with the authentic face of slobbish, greedy Britain as the chief fraudster. But there is something slightly sad and desperate about a con-trick drama that can't persuade the audience to suspend its disbelief.
… a shrewd, witty dissection of the culture of lying fostered by the no-win-no-fee deals familiar from television advertising… John Crowley's wonderfully engaging cast make the most of the quirky humour, though this occasionally feels like padding, and do their best to disguise the fact that one or two of the key relationships are underwritten. Mays' Andrew is a compellingly uneasy chancer, with a trouble background, but the character's ethical differences with Barry are left somewhat out-of-focus as he persists in his hurtful pretence of innocence, while the climactic confrontation with Jennifer (Niky Wardley), his first love who agonisingly married the odious Kevin, comes across as a belated acknowledgement that there's been a shortage of emotional substance. The piece is at once diverting and a tad disappointing.
Griselda Murray Brown
Last year, Nick Payne won Best Play at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards for Constellations... He follows it up with a drama that is formally less complex – here, time is single and linear – but which confirms his sharp wit and superb ear for the varied languages of social class and profession... Scorpion Claims is brilliantly realised, from designer Scott Pask's stained ceiling tiles and cluttered wood effect desks to Andrew and Barry's well-worn routines ("Might nip to Greggs. Fancy anything?")... The court scenes, like those in the office, are wonderfully funny, with an understated turn from Peter Forbes as a kindly Scottish judge given to philosophical musings. But this nuanced satire of the no-win-no-fee culture veers into less certain territory in its final act... And yet The Same Deep Water As Me is, for the most part, hugely enjoyable.