Company of Ten
Abbey Theatre Studio
Runs to Saturday 19th October 2019
01727 857861 (Tickets £13)
A cracking depiction of Thatcherism.
The first thing that strikes you in Martin Crimp’s excellent play, rich in staccato rhythms worthy of Pinter and David Mamet, is that many of the characters inhabit various stages of unpleasantness. Mike and Liz, the yuppie couple selling their house are, as dear old Oscar would say, knowing of the price of everything and the value of nothing. Or that was how it seemed to me. Naked ambition for house price gazumping eclipsed much else. We got a tantalising hint of sexual connection in a wine induced evening of introspection but elsewhere this Liz and Mike rated money far above relationships. Ditching their unseen prospective buyers for creepy cash buyer James, laced with dubious Faustian offerings, seemed to say it all. Money may not grow on trees but its entrails were everywhere, destroying normal human values. Dealing in tens of thousands on a house sale does not stop you fretting obsessively about your Italian au pairs secretive phone calls or covering up stains on a carpet that may knock off the odd one per cent.
And in the mix of this, as well as that creepy counter cash buyer, is the ingenuous estate agent Clair. On one level strong and assertive, as estate agents are, and yet in other respects completely out of her depth. She goes along with the yuppies upping the value of their house and seems to accept cash buyer James on his own terms, almost buying in to his prevarications. And if he makes her uncomfortable, as he does, she never totally loses that estate agent high street patina. If it had been me I would have told him to piss off or put up the money. Preferably both.
Even if the programme had not mentioned it you would readily pick up echoes of the Suzy Lamplugh case when, over thirty years ago, a young estate agent disappeared after meeting up with prospective buyer Mr Kipper. A case never resolved. And neither is it in Mr Crimp’s Dealing With Clair. This play is not about the ramifications of a 1980s real life mystery but more about the naked age of Thatcherism that was the background to it. We all want to better ourselves and if we can crawl over others whilst doing it so much the better. Money blinds to motives and allows exploitation.
Under Martin Goodman’s astute and spare direction we got some cracking performances. The cast, collectively, never missed a beat in regaling Mr Crimp’s insistent and percussive narrative. Every line delivered was as sharp as a razor and as precise as a bullet. We were rarely given time to indulge in emotional introspection. Not easy for the cast, as fleshing out characters with dramatic subtext in such a linguistic context is virtually impossible. What we know of the people, other than the coruscating words, must be suggested. I got Liz (Georgia Choudhuri) and Mike (Jack Kenward) in spades. A narcissistic couple more interested in selling a house than cementing a relationship that, to me, was fragmenting under money. Whenever the poor offstage baby cried, yes they produced one, it was the put upon au pair who dealt with the problem. Selfish buggers I thought. Georgia Choudhuri was exceptionally good as a wife seemingly to want status more than emotional satisfaction.
Lester Adams’ creepy buyer James could have been a bit creepier for my tastes, perhaps I wanted that mysterious Mr Kipper, but he nevertheless unnerved. Both of my female companions subscribed to this view so perhaps it is a male thing. But he clearly unnerved Lillie Prowse’s Clair. A ‘black suited’ waitress, the sellers sexist view, Miss Prowse oozed female confidence in a male dominated world and commanded the stage in all her scenes. If you got the feeling that this Clair was playing a role, the confident estate agent desperate for advancement, you would not be far wrong. All her instincts repelled against James the buyer but the commission percentage eclipsed everything. And that probably sums up most estate agents.
Louisa Bicknell was the cracking Italian au pair Anna, totally believable in everything she did, and Zodiac O’Neill particularly impressed in the third of his small roles. Estate agent Toby, full of all that bullshit that such folks are capable. Sitting where I was I could have hit his sharp suited persona in the face, and frankly I was tempted. I cannot pay the actor a higher compliment. Lighting and Sound were impressive and both Don Hayward and Ian Crawford are to be congratulated, especially for their combined efforts in creating the trains rushing by Clair’s small and claustrophobic bedsit. Very realistic.
A slight play in some respects but rich with beautiful dialogue delivered with consummate ease by a skilled cast. I expect nothing less from Company of Ten. And if they spread little light on the Suzy Lamplugh mystery, not their fault, they gave us an illuminating glimpse of old world Thatcherism. Roy Hall