Performance date: 1 August 2013
Until 28 September 2013
This new play from Nick Payne struggles with what it is trying to achieve. Is it a tragedy about a boy who seemed to have made an escape from the depths of Luton but ends up right back there? Is it about missed opportunities in love? Is it a comedy about heartless lawyers and conniving clients out to make a sly buck from a slip and trip?
Andrew Eagleman, played by Daniel Mayes, is a personal injury solicitor who has left the London legal fraternity in unspecified circumstances and washed up back at Scorpion Claims, a small private practice in Luton. Barry Paterson, played by Nigel Lindsay, is his unambitious partner. Life in the grey tasteless office is enlivened only by trips to Greggs, the local caff, until Kevin Needleman (Marc Wootton) wanders in, claiming he has had a bingle with a Tesco delivery van and wanting compensation. Kevin, apparently a high school nemesis of Andrew’s, draws him into a scheme of deception.
The script is often played for laughs – which is safer territory than when it tries to mine more dramatic concerns. Performances are solid, but there is too little plot, too little back story to really care about what happens to Andrew or to others. His betrayal of legal ethics happens with minimal angst. Barry, with his endless herbal tea varieties and attempts at bringing characters together, seems to be an attempt at a wise old sage, but feels irrelevant. The strongest performance probably comes from Isabella Laughland as the Tesco delivery driver – despite the shades of Vicki Pollard – she is coherent as a character in a way others are not.
There is an interval, which seems necessary only to allow for the resetting of the stage with a long courtroom scene taking up most of the second half. The open thrust stage of the Donmar is not conducive to this staging – with much of the stalls audience getting just the backs of the main actors as they address their comments to the judge. Likewise, for people seated in the circle at the side, as we were, elements of the staging including a fight scene, were not visible. The dropped down lights as part of the set also obstructed the view of some actors during key scenes.
The play ends with some general railing from Andrew against consumerism and unscrupulous humanity. You might feel more impassioned about this if the human delivering it were a little less compromised himself. The play is entertaining, but somehow lacking a believable emotional core. There’s no sting in this tale, just mediocrity.