Nick Payne’s Constellations was one of last year’s theatrical highlights: elegant and simple, it took life’s small gestures and launched them into space. It transferred from the 80 seater Royal Court Upstairs to the West End and was nominated for an Olivier award. As his new play starts performances, does he feel the pressure of repeating the success of Constellations?
On the evidence of The Same Deep Water As Me, directed by John Crowley at the Donmar Warehouse, Nick Payne doesn’t seem under pressure at all. On the face of it, it’s a simple story with a simple structure unfolding over several years: its milieu is a solicitor’s firm specialising in personal injury claims. It’s not the kind of profession to brag about and the two solicitors working on the firm bear (and occasionally justify) its unsavoury reputation with a mixture of self delusion and decency.
As with Constellations, dialogue and relationships are impeccable. The minutiae of every day rituals – making tea, going to Greggs, answering the phone – become a profound character study. Some lines are so strong that laughter was coming from the audience like a mexican wave, rolling and folding and coming back again. A court room speech about causality was both surreal and naturalistic, out of place and entirely fitting. Hidden stories peak out and breath in the subconscious without overwhelming the play. There is a smoke and mirrors quality to the play, the tension of lies and suspicion.
The other undisputed joy of the production is the performances: Daniel Mays’ Andrew starts as predictably shallow but subtly changes into darker, more complex colours. Nigel Lindsay’s Barry, with measured words and tiny gestures, holds this universe together. Marc Wootton fits Kevin’s character so well that is unsettling and a little bit scary. Monica Dolan and Peter Forbes overcome social divides – and show considerable range – playing different characters at either side of the interval. Niky Wardley’s performance has warmth and intelligence and Isabella Laughland almost steals the show in her brief appearance.
The play stumbles when it attempts big moral statements and the love story is not as effortless as it should be. But these are minor complaints for a confident, supple, hugely enjoyable play.