Home » London Theatre Reviews » Dealing with Clair by Martin Crimp at The Orange Tree Theatre | Review

Dealing with Clair by Martin Crimp at The Orange Tree Theatre | Review

Roseanna Frascona and Gabriel Akuwudike in DEALING WITH CLAIR - Orange Tree Theatre and ETT - photo by The Other Richard
Roseanna Frascona and Gabriel Akuwudike in DEALING WITH CLAIR – Orange Tree Theatre and ETT – photo by The Other Richard

Martin Crimp’s breakthrough play, Dealing with Clair, opened in 1988 on the back of the well-documented disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh, a West London estate agent whose last known whereabouts included meeting a mysterious client scheduled in Lamplugh’s work diary as ‘Mr Kipper’. Now, ironically coinciding with the re-opening of the Lamplugh case, Richard Twyman directs Crimp’s satirical foray into the London housing market, highlighting how little we have learned since the housing boom (and subsequent crash) of the ‘80s.

Our vendors are Mike and Liz, who are eager to sell their 3-slash-4-bed-with-garden on a ‘very nice’ leafy street to the first bidder that meets the asking price. A very honourable position – a scrupulous means of partaking in this ‘whole nasty business’ of selling and buying, playing the game but fairly, virtuously even – unless, perhaps, maybe – they are selling themselves short? Hateful business, this.

Yet any ostensible scruples these vendors have come to nothing when James, a mysterious cash buyer arrives on the scene, apparently willing to meet – and exceed – the asking price. And then there is Clair – caught in the middle, the placating, accommodating estate agent, with a smile that never quite reaches her eyes. Ogled at, mocked, and debated, Clair lives on her own on a railway line, with a fold-out bed and glass shelf above the sink – facts James unnervingly seems to know (or deduce) in one of his repeated visits with Clair to the house.

Crimp has an uncanny way with words, a knack for language that is both complex and subtly clear; the repetitions resound around the room, as characters side-step the obvious questions (the topic of money is awkwardly skirted around), using jargon and niceties to fill space, never quite connecting enough to listen to one another’s answers. There are multiple issues explored here too: a property market that resonates with the current housing crisis; the voyeuristic male gaze that fizzes with power and sexual ownership; the greed of the aspiring middle classes; and the rivulet of disdain for ‘the help’ (providing cheques for builders despite agreeing cash; repeatedly calling on and ignoring the Italian nanny to placate the unseen 6-month-old baby/nuisance). This is a play centred on privilege, taking without need and turning everything to one’s advantage. It’s ‘a hateful business’, really, as Mike asserts – yet that doesn’t stop him partaking in it with barely-suppressed glee.

And in this co-production with the English Touring Theatre, we are made to feel every bit as culpable as the abhorrent characters themselves. In Fly Davis’ effective set design, we view the action through an enmeshed square box that cleverly hems in the characters, incubating them in a kind of property zoo as we sit close by, unmoving bystanders as the play ricochets towards its inevitable end. Puppets of privilege, our characters (superbly acted by the cast of 6) sully us as they provoke laughter, and reveal the bleak, hollow core of humanity that still persists since the play’s inception 30 years ago. A careful, darkly comic comment on the state of society, Dealing with Clair is to be lauded for its sharp, mirror-like accuracy and uncanny timeliness – although its prevailing cynicism makes celebrating the revival of such a comment a rather more subdued affair.

4 stars

Review by Amy Stow

Clair works in real estate.
Mike and Liz are selling.
James wants to buy.
He’ll only deal with Clair.

Selling houses. It’s not forever. Who knows what I’ll do? Maybe make a killing and just…
disappear. That’s right. Vanish.

Dealing with Clair examines the horrors just beneath the civilized surface of urban lives; it is both a satire on moral and emotional bankruptcy and a bleak, black comedy thriller.

Hara Yannas in Dealing With Clair at the Orange Tree Theatre

Gabriel Akuwudike (Ashley/Vittorio/Toby)
Roseanna Frascona (Anna)
Michael Gould (James)
Tom Mothersdale (Mike)
Lizzy Watts (Clair)
Hara Yannas (Liz)

Listings Information
26 October – 1 December 2018

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