Set in Luton, featuring personal injury lawyers and conventionally played, Nick Payne’s The Same Deep Water As Me at first glance appears to have an underwhelming premise to follow his sparkly original and hugely successful Constellations. However Nick Payne, despite young in years, has already begun to establish a formidable reputation as a playwright with an ear for the patter of the everyday voices and so it proves with a solid follow-up to one of the more original plays of recent years.
Payne’s talent goes farther than the mimicking of the everyday, it is also possible to see him channelling the distinctive voices of the late 20th century. There was a Stoppardian verve to the writing that grounded Constellations and it is impossible to watch The Same Deep Water As Me and not recognise the muscularity of Mamet lying below the surface.
It is rare, in British playwriting, to find someone who can so convincingly evoke the language of those that may be labelled the working middle-classes. His characters seem to spring from a previously untapped well of working professionals; strong working-class roots but perhaps the first to make use of widening university provision.
By and large Payne writes characters who are near-invisible on the stage, and who are often routinely talked-down and patronised by those who see themselves as the guardians of culture. They do not have a socialist chip on their shoulders but they also are not part of the institutional elites; in short they are not political but are fiercely individual and rarely do playwrights try to illuminate the inner-lives and desires.
At times Payne’s writing is reminiscent of a well-crafted stand-up routine; turning ordinary lives into something faintly surreal and highlighting the hidden absurdity’s in established routines. Rather than grotesque caricatures, Payne finds humanity in the everyday. A repeat call-back to Greggs – a very modern class touchstone – under Payne’s gentle probing reveals glimpses of a hidden world where relationships develop and life experience is shared. We find the quality of a steak slice is quantified and rated with the same precision that foodies reserve for bread and olives.
The shadow of Mamet is impossible to ignore and these is reinforced through both plot and structure. The ambulance-chasing, insurance scams of In The Same Deep Water As Me operates in a similar moral universal to Glengarry Glen Ross. They both operate within a macho-office-based culture; they are full of people who are not operating at the margins but are still having to scrap and scramble to survive.