The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Carrie Cracknell
Designed by Tom Scutt
Hester Collyer HELEN McCRORY
Freddie Page TOM BURKE
William Ciller PETER SULLIVAN
Mr Miller NICK FLETCHER
Mrs Elton MARION BAILEY
Philip Welch HUBERT BURTON
Ann Welch YOLANDA KETTLE
Jackie Jackson ADETOMIWA EDUN
Continues at the Lyttleton Theatre, National Theatre,
South Bank, London England.
**** (out of 5)
Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea deals with a subject as old as Western literature. A wife leaves her husband and takes up with another man, to put it blandly. The prime and perhaps earliest example of this conduct is probably Helen of Troy who abandoned King Menelaus of Sparta and ran off with the young Trojan prince Paris. Let’s assume that Menelaus was not a bad husband and assign a reason to her action. Infatuation, lust, boredom are possible explanations or the ultimate cause for such action which is the inexplicable, incomprehensible and perhaps completely mysterious: love.
Tom Burke and Helen McCrory. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Now let’s look at Hester Collyer, the heroine of Rattigan’s play. She is the artistic daughter of a clergyman who married Sir William Collyer, a handsome and successful judge of the high court. They live in high society and have all the benefits that money and position can offer. She meets Freddie Page, a former test pilot and leaves her husband. Whatever his past achievements, when the play begins Freddie is unemployed, drinks too much, and plays scant attention to Hester. When the curtain goes up Hester is discovered to have attempted to commit suicide.
The play then deals with an exploration of Hester’s reasons for taking such a drastic action. Sir William is a perfect gentleman and there is no apparent reason for her leaving him. He is handsome, successful, without any hint of mistreating her.
Freddie Page is what we would now call a loser. He went to Canada after the war where he lost his job as a test pilot for misconduct. He ignores Hester much of the time so he can have his own fun. Why is she staying with him? The first clue is when he arrives at their apartment and she embraces him with passion. The sexual attraction is obvious but we don’t want to believe that lust is the only reason she is living with the lout.
Helen McCrory gives a superb performance as a woman with deep conflicts who puts up with mistreatment and poverty with a “nobody” who offers great sex and, we must believe, she loves. We watch her develop and work through her emotional trauma and come to terms with her life.
Peter Sullivan as William Collyer is straight-backed, rational and kind in his own way but he has no passion in him and that is perhaps his Achilles’ heel. Tom Burke as Freddie goes from bad to worse and convinces us that he is not worthy of Hester but that is not the same as convincing her.
Rattigan has some interesting characters who are Hester’s neighbours. The most finely drawn and synthetic person is Mr. Miller, a German, a trained doctor who is no longer practicing. But he is a real mensch and Nick Fletcher brings out his humanity and decency is a fine performance.
Marion Fletcher plays the sympathetic but nosey landlady Mrs. Elton. Hubert Burton is the ineffectual but decent neighbour Philp Welch and Yolanda Kettle his equally ineffectual wife.
Director Carrie Campbell handles the play with sensitivity and makes it dramatic without making it maudlin or melodramatic. A fine job.
Designer Tom Scutt’s two-story set gives an impression of the apartment building with doors of other units and stairs visible at the back.
The lighting designed by Guy Hoare tended towards the dark and bleak but I am not sure if the production would have suffered much of the apartment was better lit.
The play may hark back to Greek mythology but for Terence Rattigan it had an autobiographical inspiration. The gay playwright was abandoned by his young lover for another man. He could not very well write a play about homosexual love but this was his expiation of a terrible chapter in his life. Menelaus would have understood.
A superb night at the theatre.