Theatre: Dealing With Clair

Dealing With Clair

Written by Martin Crimp

Directed by Cristabel Sved

Starring: Laura Brent, Ed Wightman, Sarah Becker, Boris Brkic, Josh McConville and Kelly Paterniti

Real estate is a risk versus reward thing. It’s a business of people in it totally for themselves, and why shouldn’t they be? It’s their money, their property. So when it comes to making decisions, it’s greed that wins out. Dealing with Clair is a play that delves into this risky business of real estate, with all its doublespeak and uncertainty. It creates the foundation of this early piece by British playwright Martin Crimp and is the world inhabited by the titilar Clair (Laura Brent), real estate agent for Mike (Ed Wightman) and Liz (Sarah Becker) Welson. Mike tells her that the couple want to behave ‘honourably’ in the transaction. Of course that’s exactly what he doesn’t mean. He wants the best price and then along comes James (Boris Brkic), promising to top another buyer’s offer with cash. Greed wins out.

Clair as the agnet is the air of normalcy between the heightened tensions of buyer and seller. But even she speaks in a strained manner, especially when working her optimistic magic with the prospective buyer. Things become rosier by description but the audience can always see Clair’s lack of faith in the actor’s eyes (a solid and anchoring turn by Laura Brent). And you will get a good look into the eyes of all the actors at some point. The SBW Stables theatre is tiny and the audience is almost right on top of the play. William Bobbie Stewart’s set is filled with cardboard boxes for shifting house and works inventivly for the two locations the play switches between, reflecting well on a larger scale the transient theme of the piece. Everyone is moving somewhere or buying or selling. To be stationary is not an option.

Originally written for a British audience in 1988, the script is malleable enough to be modernised and localised for a Sydney audience. It’s also allowed director Cristabel Sved to do away with the English accents and implement that all-important tool for modern Real Estate agents: the mobile phone.

Dealing with Clair is drenched in sexual tension. The characters have a beautifully stifled air about them and sex crops up everywhere. It is explicit in the Welson’s barely dressed Italian nanny Anna (played with eye-catching charisma by Kelly Paterniti) and subtly hinted at by Mike’s unnecessarily unbuckled pants at Act II’s opening. The men are lecherous and the women are receptive to it, Clair because it’s a fact of the job and Liz because she takes it where she can get it. It generates dark undertones to the play and makes the audience suspicious of forces more sinister than are being shown.

Comedy is played at, but it’s never quite as funny as it clearly wants to be. Crimp’s speciality is banter and he writes copious amounts of pedestrian small talk into scenes, which has the unpleasant side effect at times of being very pedestrian. Not everything seems to have a purpose and this isn’t a passive theatre experience; Crimp glosses over big details and fleshes out smaller ones, which requires you not just to watch but to read the action and you won’t always get it. Many will find this downright irritating but the devils in the detail and Martin Crimp is an acquired taste.

You will love this if: subtext is your first love and real estate is your second.

You will hate this if: you want less thinking and to just watch the thing.

Dealing with Clair is playing at Griffin Theatre Company, SBW Stables Theatre (Nimrod St, Kings Cross) until 15th August.

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