|I hate spoilers – those terrible, selfish people who can’t keep their mouths shut about the big reveal and go blithely and blitheringly ahead to tell you exactly what happens and ruin the surprise – the bastards! So in a bid to avoid being a hypocrite of the worst kind, this reviewer is going to tread very carefully when it comes to talking about Martin Crimp’s Dealing With Clair. My first suggestion is don’t read ANYTHING! Not even the director’s notes (until after the show) if you really want this production to shine. You can of course read this review – that goes without saying, right?Dealing With Clair, which is gracing the stage for the first time ever in Australia at Sydney’s The Stables, is a rather crafty little piece of theatre. It’s an early work (1988) by British playwright Martin Crimp, the man who has been lauded as the heir apparent to such masters as Pinter and Mamet and whose most recent play The City is also currently on at The STC. The action centres on a pretty twenty-something real estate agent, Clair (Laura Brent), who finds herself becoming the meat in the sandwich when her vendors, Liz (Sarah Becker) and Mike (Ed Wightman) an upwardly mobile couple trying to sell their house for an exorbitant sum engage her services to secure a sale from a mysterious prospective buyer, James (Boris Brkic). This dark satire takes aim at the inherent greed of capitalism to reveal the ugly reality of a world where anything, and indeed anyone, can be bought – at a price.”There’s a certain kind of man who would exploit this kind of situation, isn’t there Clair?” the accommodating agent is told on more than one occasion. Exactly how far these characters will exploit her and the situation becomes dangerously apparent as the stakes – both financially and morally continue to rise.
Brent is both fragile and charming as Clair, the agent whose ambition is a by product of her circumstances. She is not, so it would seem, greedy by nature. The same cannot be said for Liz and Mike, who, when they are not conspiring together about how best to extract even more cash from the buyer, keep their baby’s nanny, a young Italian girl named Anna (Kelly Paterniti), a virtual hostage in their fourth windowless bedroom. Becker is suitably austere as the calculating ice queen wife Liz, while Wightman embodies the pathos of the emasculated husbandMike perfectly. There are laughs to be had here, but for some audiences members these characters may be a little too close to the bone! The real cracking guffaws come courtesy of Paterniti, the saucy barely clad nanny whose scenes with Josh McConville (who plays both a tradesman and her part-time Italian lover) are among the most hilarious. Meanwhile Boris Brkic manages to be both warm and sinister as James the mysterious moneyed buyer.
Director Cristabel Sved has orchestrated a tight and polished production technically, where set, sound design and lighting all come together in the service of the actors to heighten their performances. The roped-off stage by William Bobbie Stewart is particularly affecting when combined with Verity Hampson’s lighting which at times makes the action seem reminiscent of a great black-and-white noir flick.
In lieu of saying too much and giving away the ending – I promised no spoilers – let’s just say that Dealing With Clair will leave audiences either marvelling at Crimp’s audacity to deliver a conclusion which is both bold and simplistic or perhaps fuming that they’ve been had by an elaborate parlour trick.
Griffin Theatre presents
Director Cristabel Sved
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
This review first appeared on Australian Stage