By an extraordinary quirk of fate, Martin Crimp’s 1988 play is being revived at the very moment the unsolved murder of Suzy Lamplugh is once again headline news. While Crimp’s play touches on the theme of an estate agent who mysteriously disappears, its topicality shines through in countless other ways: it is, ultimately, about the moral equivocation of the middle classes, and men’s abuse and belittlement of women.
Property lies at the heart of the artfully told story. Mike and Liz are a yuppie couple anxious to get the maximum price for their London house. So, although they have already accepted an offer, they are open to a higher cash bid from an enigmatic picture-dealer named James. Clair is the estate agent caught in the middle, who becomes the excuse for the couple’s double-dealing and an object of unhealthy curiosity on the part of the creepily intrusive James.
What Crimp is brilliant at, in a way of which Pinter or Mamet would approve, is showing how language can camouflage people’s baser actions. Mike and Liz epitomise bourgeois lies and evasions, dubbing the au pair’s windowless attic “the guest room” and saying of the initial house offer that “legally it means nothing”. But Crimp also skilfully suggests the same tactic is applied to sex. Mike conceals his fascination with Clair by patronisingly calling her “the waitress”, while James weaves his way into her life by suggesting they have a shared solitude.
Even if the final scene strikes me as superfluous, it is a fiendishly clever play, excellently directed by Richard Twyman in a co-production with English Touring Theatre.
Fly Davis’s set, a rectangular box with gauze walls, adds to the sense of strangeness and the performances are perfectly in key. Michael Gould is wholly plausible as the spidery cash buyer and Lizzy Watts as Clair suggests a fly caught in his web. Tom Mothersdale and Hara Yannas bring out the smooth-faced greed of the vendors who treat Roseanna Frascona’s Italian nanny as an extension of their property. Although written 30 years ago, it is rivetingly a play for today.