The whiff of desperation drifts through the soul-destroyingly carpet-tiled office of the solicitors in Nick Payne’s new play like the scent of discarded Greggs bags, the contents of which once promised much but were ultimately dissatisfying and disappointing. Never has an old steak bake more accurately reflected the lives of a play’s characters.
The solicitors of Scorpion Claims are less Perry Mason, more Piri Piri Chicken. They struggle to get by on dubious personal injury claims, eking out a depressing living as their office slowly falls apart.
Though Barry, an avuncular Nigel Lindsay, whose greatest pleasure is speciality tea, may have bent the rules in the past, breaking them outright would be a step too far. But when Marc Wootton’s thoroughly dislikeable Kevin arrives, Fs decorating his sentences like sweary sprinkles on an ice-cream sundae of deceit, that is the proposition facing Daniel Mays’ Andrew.
So we watch the effect of desperation play out. It would be depressing if it wasn’t so funny.
In Mays – surely one of London’s most bankable of stage stars – director John Crowley has the ideal everyman hero. He has a talent for desperation, for finding the heart of an average man who wanted more from life, who longed to break away from his past but was dragged back by the whirlpool of family and history. Despite the as-drab-as-a-glum-puddle suit, given the chance his Andrew borders on charismatic.
While we root for Andrew to find his way through, and there is just a hint of hope, Wootton’s chain-adorned Kevin is always a Luton-ite panto villain. There’s little to redeem him, symptomatic as he is of the bulling, clawing culture that has grown around personal injury claims, yet he too is a victim of circumstance, like everyone else in the play fighting to earn a crust to feed their family.
For, in contrast to Payne’s last play, the award-winning Constellations, which features scenes and moments played and replayed with ever varying outcomes, each character’s outcome in The Same Deep Water As Me is depressingly similar; an uninspiring life trying to make do.
If their lives sound joyless, the play is not. From the least inspiring group of criminals pawing over a road map as though it were blueprints for Fort Knox, to Peter Forbes’ desperately amiable judge giving a headmaster-esque telling off for texting in court – beware any audience members thinking of checking your phone! – Payne lifts the gloom with a touch of the ridiculous and ridiculously mundane.