It’s rare a play provokes one to laugh incessantly, sometimes uncontrollably. Yet Nick Payne’s biting and, at times, seething writing allows the audience to do just that in his new play The Same Deep Water as Me.
Centred around Scorpion Claims’s shabby Luton office, where the highlight of the day is a trip to Greggs for a low-grade coffee and croissant, Barry and Andrew are clearly not making millions by handling the community’s personal injury cases. That is, until Kevin stumbles into the office. A fast-talking geezer of sorts, who also happens to be a schoolmate of Andrew’s, begs for help in dealing with a claim against Tescos. The two reluctantly agree as long as it’s a ‘No Win, No Fee’ case. And so the race against wits begins… Just as Kevin and his ‘poor family’ reel you into a string of well-rehearsed tales of despair, tables turn and we are presented with a craftier version of the truth – a truth that changes as each new character enters into the equation.
For a topic as dry as personal compensation, Nick Payne delivers the goods (and then some) with a story that clearly balances character development with comedic tension. Hardly a second is spared before the next raging fireball is spun into conversation, gesticulating quick banter and even physical punches. Lines such as “I can’t afford Tesco's – I’m a Morrisons man” sit tightly in the first half’s set-up, marking the defendants and their clients as meagre, suburban lads who don’t stand a chance in the courtroom. This point is again reinforced in the second half when Andrew concedes to opposing council, a long-legged ice queen, that his “dongle is on the blink” to which she replies, “That’s an expression you don’t hear often.”
Nigel Lindsay and Daniel Mays superbly portray colleagues Barry and Andrew, winning the audience over with their fumbling relationship remindful of an overly trusting father and a not-so-trusting son. But it is Marc Wootton as the crass, loud-mouthed Kevin who steals the show, pushing each scene to its comedic heights. Monica Dolan as whipper-snapping Georgina and Peter Forbes as the sweet and syrupy judge should also be mentioned for their short, yet impactful performances.
Hats off to this production – it moves from the office to the courtroom with perfect pace: this coming as no surprise in light of Nick Payne’s award-winning play Constellations last year and John Crowley’s directing accolades in both theatre and film worlds. Sound and design also lend a hand in the play's swiftness, with buzzing music used in between scenes and a set that easily transitions from one location to the next.
If there's one fault to mention, it would be the somewhat over-dramatic and predictable ending that brings romance in to the mix – an element that perhaps isn't needed this time round. Let's stick to the laughs, shall we?
The Same Deep Water as Me is at The Donmar Warehouse through 28 September. Tickets £7.50 - £35, and can be bought from the Donmar website. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes (with one interval). Londonist saw this production on a complimentary press ticket.