If you love David Mamet you’ll adore Nina Raine. No other British dramatist gets close to the American master’s use of rude wit to explore themes of genuine heft.
Raine’s new play – directed with a subtle but sure hand by Roger Michell - is populated by clever, thrillingly articulate lawyers whose lives are seemingly insulated from the sordid behaviour of the people they encounter in the dock.
Conspicuous among their current workload is a rape case. Defending the (unseen) accused is Edward (a terrific Ben Chaplin) who we see mercilessly cross examining the alleged victim. Prosecuting the case – though not on behalf of the deeply damaged victim, but the crown, which feels like another injustice - is Edward lawyer friend Tim, while at home Edward’s wife Kitty (an equally terrific Anna Maxwell Martin) has just had a baby.
As it switches between professional and personal lives, the play lays into (and bare) the way crime victims are exposed by the dispassionate professionalism of the judiciary. But the main focus in on the lawyers’ home lives where we witness the corroding relationship between the forensically minded Edward and the increasingly unloving Kitty. The cause is a past betrayal for which she doles out belated rough justice by having an affair of her own with Tim. A parallel plot sees another couple – also friends, also lawyers – implode because of the sexual betrayal of the man in relationship.
There’s an enjoyable whiff of schadenfreude as Craig’s plot pushes the superior Edward and his peers into the kind of mire hitherto only populated by the people they cross-examine in court. Of course, it would have been intolerable if the play confirmed the view that they are a cut above most of humanity. So in that sense we end up pretty much where the early trajectory of the narrative suggests we will.
But the arguments that swirl around sexual politics here are expressed with such sophistication you feel enriched just by being in the same room as the play. And it’s also bloody funny too.