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The Theatreguide.London Review

Dealing With Clair
Orange Tree Theatre   Autumn 2018

Martin Crimp's 1988 play is in part a moderately heavy-handed social satire and in part a very heavy-handed psychological thriller, and Richard Twyman's thirtieth-anniversary revival does little to lighten the hand in either part. 

The titular Clair is an estate agent engaged in selling the house of thirty-something couple Mike and Liz. James is a very creepy potential buyer. 

The satire comes in the picture of Mike and Liz, who continually assure themselves and anyone who will listen that they are operating honourably and honestly, even as they push the price upward, pass a windowless cupboard off as an extra bedroom, happily gazump one buyer when a better prospect comes along and, in passing, neglect their baby and abuse their nanny. 

The problem with this part of the play is that we get everything there is to say about the couple – they're yuppie scum without even the minimal virtue of self-knowledge – within their first scene, and then they don't develop or go anywhere as characters, so we quickly lose interest in them. 

By default the focus shifts to James, and to avoid a spoiler in what is actually telegraphed long in advance, let me just say he seems to have an abnormal interest in Clair and considerable knowledge about her personal life. 

At least as he is presented here, we are not even allowed any is-he-or-isn't-he ambiguity. The guy is a seriously dangerous creep, and it is not even a matter of when Clair will be in extreme peril. 

We're mentally shouting 'Get out of that room with him' from their first scene together – or would be, if there were much to Clair for us to care about. 

Whatever strength the play might have, in either half, would come from an ambiguous subtlety in the presentation of both the comedy and the menace. But director Richard Twyman opts at every opportunity for the shallow and the obvious, drawing from an experienced and talented cast what may be the worst performances of their careers. 

Tom Motherdale and Hana Yannas as the yuppie couple generally seem lost onstage, having been given nothing more to play than satiric stereotypes and running out of those minimal characterisations very quickly. 

A few stray hints in the text of other sides to their characters, like their uneasiness around their sexy young nanny, go unexplored with a consistency that betrays the director's, rather than the actors' failure. 

Lizzy Watts seems to have been given nothing at all to play as Clair – or, rather, something different to play in each scene – here a tentative voice of morality and there a willing co-conspirator, here a sophisticated player letting others think they're playing her and there the equivalent of the naive girl who goes into the cellar in a bad horror movie – and with no guidance from her director in how to make them all parts of a coherent characterisation. 

And your greatest sympathy goes to actor Michael Gould, who has been directed to play the bad guy as just barely this side of a Panto villain, oozing blatant unambiguous creepiness in a way that would embarrass Peter Lorre or Steve Buscemi. 

Fly Davis's set design, an in-the-round white box whose only-semi-transparent scrim walls place a counterproductive barrier between audience and play, is particularly ugly and ineffective.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Dealing With Clair - Orange Tree Theatre 2018

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