Nick Payne is the author of the brilliant Royal Court play, Constellations, for my money the most thrilling new work of 2012. And so a Payne world première is now a much-anticipated thing.
The setting for the latest play is as bland as it is possible to imagine — a down-at-heel lawyer’s office in Luton.
Scott Pask’s design — all carpet-tiles and office furniture — creates the kind of place that would sap the will to live, let alone to work. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and Andrew (Daniel Mays) specialise in accident claims. Times are hard and when Barry pauses at the near emptiness of his wallet before handing over a tenner so that Andrew can buy another set of scratch cards, you can feel the pinch.
There’s a whiff of David Mamet’s devastating study of property salesmen, Glengarry Glen Ross. The language is strewn with four letter words, and John Crowley’s production is charged with the kind of office tension that comes with too little work and not enough reward. Yet, for a piece set in the somewhat dodgy territory of accident claims, Payne cleverly directs the moral compass in an unexpected direction.
Barry, it transpires, has no interest in making money from false claims. Andrew has fewer reservations. Enter local likely lad and scallywag Kevin (Marc Wootton) with an offer that is difficult to refuse. It involves faking an accident to make a false claim against a Tesco delivery van. If all goes to plan this could be a business model for the future. And Barry would never have to know.
Payne turns the small lives that commit small-time crime into gripping stuff. And when the plan, which involves recruiting a motley crew of down-on-their-luck fellow conspirators, unexpectedly ends up in court, we are treated to a fizzing clash between the posh arrogance of Monica Dolan’s corporate lawyer Georgina and Andrew’s barrow- boy brand of advocacy. Payne’s writing is superbly observed but never quite delivers the promised dramatic pay-off.