Martin Crimp’s 1988 play Dealing With Clair is, in some ways, more relevant than ever in 2018. In others, it’s awkwardly old-fashioned.
A six-hander, it revolves around the sale of a salubrious family home somewhere in London. Mike and Liz are selling. James is buying. Clair is their estate agent. The stakes, and the sale price, start climbing: £675,000, £750,000, £800,000.
It is pretty much classic Crimp. Weighted, weirdly emphasised dialogue. Snatches of conversation repeating themselves again and again. Heavy symbolism. A noticeable but nebulous undercurrent of violence permeating the whole play.
All of that is handled really well by Richard Twyman, staged compellingly by Fly Davis in a translucent white box, and performed with precision by a classy cast. A menacing Tom Mothersdale – fantastic in John at the National, fantastic in The Woods at the Royal Court, fantastic again here – is in a particularly purple patch.
The result, a nauseating exposure of the selfishness, cynicism and cruelty inherent in house-buying, is particularly potent today with zero-hour contracts, Generation Rent, and spiralling numbers of homeless deaths.
But despite this contemporary pertinence, there’s still something slightly anachronistic about Dealing With Clair. This kind of play is a bit old-hat now.
The oblique, ominous banter is delectable to begin with, but quickly wears thin, and the thinly veiled misogyny that spills, unchallenged, from the male characters – the play almost revels in it – is seriously questionable.