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The Same Deep Water As Me

Nick Payne's new play at the Donmar Warehouse is a laugh-filled examination of the phenomenon of 'no win, no fee'

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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If you watched this play with no knowledge of its author, you'd never guess it's by the same man who wrote Constellations, the multiverse rom-com that proved such a hit last year.

Nick Payne takes a very different tack with The Same Deep Water As Me - there's no kooky structural device, no minimalist set, and very little whimsy. In fact he plays a pretty straight bat with an office (and courtroom) drama about 'no win, no fee' lawyers in Luton.

Having left London under a cloud, 30-something solicitor Andrew (Daniel Mays) has washed up with Scorpion Claims, which is run by good-hearted everyman Barry (Nigel Lindsay).

Bored, frustrated and with clients dropping away like flies, Andrew gets snagged up in a 'crash for cash' scheme run by his wideboy schoolfriend Kevin (Marc Wootton), who also happens to be married to his childhood sweetheart Jennifer (Niky Wardley).

Marc Wootton as Kevin
© Johan Persson
The dialogue is peppered with laughs. Lines such as "I'm sweating like a dyslexic on Countdown" (Barry), and "I feel like I've been caught wanking at the Vet's" (Jennifer) give a flavour of the tone; if Simon Pegg and Nick Frost wrote a play it might sound something like this.

But beneath the funnies - many of which emanate from Wootton's almost pantomimic portrayal of the gold chain-sporting, loadsamoney-wannabe Kevin - Payne is making a serious point about the desperate measures people are willing to go to in a climate of recession.

And at a time when the economic gulf between London and the rest of the country is growing ever-wider, he has salient things to say about the frustration of an upwardly mobile man forced to return to his roots.

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.

The second act courtroom scene - Tesco vs Kevin - contains some lovely cameos from Peter Forbes as a philosophising judge, Isabella Laughland as a bitter lorry driver and Monica Dolan as a sloaney lawyer (in a neat piece of doubling up Dolan also plays one of the perpetrators of the staged crash).

And director John Crowley makes a welcome return to the London stage with a production that has shades of Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence (seen at this address two years ago).

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.

The Same Deep Water As Me continues at the Donmar Warehouse until 28 September