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BWW Review: DEALING WITH CLAIR, Orange Tree Theatre

BWW Review: DEALING WITH CLAIR, Orange Tree Theatre

BWW Review: DEALING WITH CLAIR, Orange Tree TheatreDealing With Clair was first staged thirty years ago at the Orange Tree Theatre. It now returns in a disturbingly well observed revival, still striking a very darkly comic and contemporary story that explores greed, morality and unsettling behaviour in the world of house buying.

Lizzy Watts plays Clair, an estate agent working for couple Mike and Liz, who want a repeatedly higher price for their house as they jostle to move up the property ladder. Despite saying that they want to behave honourably, when a tempting cash offer is presented, they quickly persuade themselves that they are justified in ditching their current buyers.

Watts is very adept at portraying the awkward and forced politeness that so many estate agents must feel. The world she works in is ruthless and cutthroat, but she must remain as neutral as the walls of her own small investment property.

Tom Mothersdale and Hara Yannas are suitably horrendous as Mike and Liz; a self-absorbed, middle class couple who are happy to stick their nanny in a windowless room. They announce that the process of selling a house is 'hateful', but are more than willing to let down a purchaser they have accepted for the promise of a cash offer. Mothersdale is excellent; nervously talkative as he flirts awkwardly with the nanny, drinking too much as he muses about a thinly veiled rape fantasy with his wife. Yannas is wonderfully self-centred, snobby and egocentric.

The arrival of James, played with shudder-inducing creepiness by Michael Gould, marks a turning point for all characters. Gould is unsettling and subtle in portraying James' disquieting behaviour; a hand lingering on a wrist too long, a gaze held for one beat too many.

Writer Martin Crimp has created a cast of characters who are deeply flawed and fairly unlikeable in their own ways. The buying and selling of property seem to bring out the worst in everyone. The script is bleakly comic in places; Mike and Liz are morally hollow and judgemental; laughing about their purchasers' health problems and their friends' purchase of a house by the railway line. Many of us will have met a Mike and Liz, or will be quietly horrified by how much they remind us of ourselves.

There are very dark undertones and events in the play. James uses endless talking and troublingly intimate knowledge to exert a strange power play over Clair in particular. When the play was first staged, it drew comments for its echoes of the terrible case of missing estate agent Suzy Lamplugh. In a strange and rather disturbing coincidence, press night coincided with the news that police have started digging at a new site in connection with Suzy's death.

Fly Davis has created an interesting set that is essentially an open-sided, empty box, covered by see-through gauze that has a voyeuristic suggestion, but also has the unfortunate effect of watching the play with smudges over your glasses' lenses.

Crimp's observations about the property market were originally written in the Thatcher property boom, but are as prescient as ever, with prices inflated to reflect today's market. Our national obsession with property has increased; we all aspire to own property and tenants are often looked upon as lesser beings by those who do. Greed is acceptable, avarice is justified and morality is compromised at every turn when dealing with money and property. It is a bleakly accurate social commentary. This is an excellent revival that both amuses and disturbs.

Dealing With Clair is at the Orange Tree Theatre until 1 December

Photo Credit: The Other Richard

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan