Donmar, London

Theatre review: The Same Deep Water as Me - Beware the yob with the perfect scam


Nick Payne's dark new comedy examines the fallout when a bunch of desperate solicitors lose sight of their moral compass

It is, one fears, a shark-eat-shark environment in The Same Deep Water as Me, the dark new comedy by the Olivier Award-winning playwright Nick Payne (of Constellations fame). Though in denial, Andrew (Daniel Mays) and his boss Barry (Nigel Lindsay) are on the skids. Holed up in a shabby, windowless office in Luton, they're making disappointingly little money as a pair of down-market solicitors.

When a cash-strapped ex-schoolmate, Kevin (Marc Wootton), barrels in, saying that his car has been pranged by a Tesco's van and he's after one of those "no win, no fee" deals, Andrew hopes to pull a fast one. However, Kevin is a scammer and yobbish desperado with a larger scale ploy, 'cos why shouldn't he live like a tax-doging fat cat or Puff Daddy? Determined to make a mint out of the cash-for-crashes racket, he gets Andrew embroiled and starts drafting in oddball cronies to fake accidents collectively. Big Society, innit. No one seems sure when to apply the brakes, ethically speaking, and that includes Kevin's nervous wife, Jen (Niky Wardley). She is called in to give evidence and is, by the by, Andrew's old flame.

Still only in his twenties, Payne is exceptionally talented. Granted, The Same Deep Water as Me isn't as structurally complex as Constellations. At points, it looks a little too like David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross crossed with The Office, or a splicing of subgenres – crooks' hustle-going-on-courtroom drama.

Far from predictable, though, scenes steer you one way then veer off, teasingly leaving you in the lurch with a shaggy dog story, or tossing you red herrings. With a great ear for dialogue plus a sociological grasp of how ethics have been corroded by the UKs wealth gap, Payne has a satiric bent behind which lies romantic hopefulness.

John Crowley's fine production boasts superb performances, especially from Lindsay whose Barry has unfathomed reserves of generosity, even when emotionally battered. As the pasty-faced, etiolated Andrew, Mays impressively bridges the gap between the laughably flailing and the seriously wracked. And, even if the verdict seems improbable, the trial includes splendid turns by Isabella Laughland as the defensive van driver, Monica Dolan as a smug, Sloaney lawyer and Peter Forbes as the crisp, dapper but never caricatured judge.

In The Sound of Music (Regent's Park Open Air ****), revived by Rachel Kavanaugh, Captain von Trapp (Michael Xavier) morally refuses to collaborate with the Nazis. Ditching his schmoozing fiancée, he abandons his Austrian schloss and escapes over the Alps with his children and, of course, his new bride Maria (Charlotte Wakefield). That Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical romance is fortified with such issues – questions about courage, life-choices and creeds – seems the more surprising and admirable when you see it in Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, where the summer season's song 'n' dance might be expected to be mere froth.

That said, the main charm of Kavanaugh's production is just how sweetly natural Wakefield's Maria seems, with her mousy bob and tomboyish stride – never trying to ape Julie Andrews from the movie. Her emotional excitability feels genuinely youthful, and it's rather winning that her songs aren't too showily polished. The most entrancing moment – choreographed by Alistair David – comes when Xavier's hitherto stiff-backed von Trapp really falls for Wakefield, in a folk dance that slowly entwines their bodies.

Almost uncannily mirroring that, the eponymous lothario of Pirandello's rustic drama Liolà (NT Lyttelton, London ***) is coiling another man's wife, Mita, into a clinch. That's choreographed by Scarlett Mackmin, with a traditional village band playing in the shadows. Richard Eyre's NT production is beautifully staged in the Lyttelton, set in walled courtyard with a massive olive tree and sunshine flooding in. The setting is the Mediterranean – with peasant headscarves, long aprons and sturdy boots – while the cast give an Irish lilt to Tanya Ronder's new, largely unobtrusive English translation.

Rory Keenan's Liolà unrepentantly sows his wild oats and even helps Mita (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) fend off a gold-digging rival as she persuades her husband (James Hayes) that her pregnancy is legitimate. Hayes' curmudgeonly old Simone is sterile but demanding an heir.

What's most interesting about this rarely seen work is that the playwright celebrates his Don Juan. While having its roots in commedia dell'arte, Liolà also looks like a long-lost ancestor of the Irish folk musical Once, because Keenan and his lady-friends keep throwing in mini-ballads. Eyre and Orlando Gough's folk score give a nod to Brecht and Berlin cabaret as well. That doesn't stop the songs from feeling obtrusive, though. The acoustics aren't great and, though Liolà looks as if it might rival The House of Bernarda Alba or Dancing at Lughnasa, Pirandello's storyline ends up feeling attenuated.


Twitter: @katebassett001

'The Same Deep Water as Me' (donmar to 28 Sept; 'The Sound of Music' ( to 7 Sept; ' 'Liolà' ( to 6 Nov


Critic's Choice

Last chance to catch James Baldwin's tragicomedy The Amen Corner, set in 1950s Harlem, at London's NT (to Wed). Great acting and storming gospel choiring, as the return of a preacher-woman's bad-boy husband sparks trouble. And, at the Edinburgh Fringe, David Greig's intense new two-hander The Events mulls on the aftermath of an ideology driven massacre. That's at the Traverse (to 25 Aug), directed by Ramin Gray.


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...