Terence Rattigan was one of the finest playwrights of his generation and over the course of many years he wrote some outstanding pieces of work for the theatre. The Deep Blue Sea is probably the best play from his repertoire, an absolute masterpiece set in post-war Britain and centred around a woman caught between worlds and realising that passion can sometimes suffocate and harm. Rattigan’s beautifully constructed play explores many issues including those of mental health, self-worth and self-esteem.
The play is set over one day in a flat in West London, it’s 1952 where we first meet Hester Collyer (Helen McCrory) trying to “end it all” but through the intervention of other people who also live in the building, she thankfully fails. Hester just needs to be heard, to be loved and most importantly to be truly valued. Having left her pompous High court judge husband William (Peter Sullivan) for the dashing (and reckless) pilot Freddie (Tom Burke) Hester is caught between the two men to devastating effect. Passion is definitely on a destructive path for all three main characters in this infernal triangle. Rattigan writes with speed and urgency and there is not a wasted word.
Originally Rattigan had conceived the play as a metaphor for his own failed relationship with another man and a lot of the pain that Hester feels throughout is an echo of how Rattigan felt when his own personal life fell apart. For most of his life Rattigan struggled with his own sexuality and once again, he has Hester also struggle with her passion for both men indeed it is eluded throughout that she is truly stuck between the Devil and the deep blue sea, one would imagine a feeling that Rattigan could total relate to in real life.
McCrory is simply stunning in the central role of Hester and especially so in the final act which is heartbreaking and at the same time life affirming. Throughout the play there is definitely a brutal sense of loss and longing which results in redemption and self -validation for all of the main characters and especially so with Hester.
By today’s standards, it may appear to have all the tropes of melodrama and occasional kitchen sink but this latest revival by the National Theatre positively shoots to the stars in every aspect. Directed by Carrie Cracknell with great energy, flair and imagination – I simply could not fault it.
McCrory captures brilliantly a woman who is wrecked both by her own passions and pain, whilst Burke is a perfect foil as her younger lover who is terrified of commitment and Sullivan who displays a steely and almost emotionless portrayal of a man who finds love far too late in the day. All three actors’ positivity shine on the National’s stage with some of the best acting I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.
Mentions to a fantastic supporting cast which includes Marion Bailey as the nosey by kindly landlady Mrs Eaton, Nick Fletcher as the slightly mysterious “doctor” Mr Miller and Hubert Burton as the silly ass neighbour Philip Welch.
The large set and ambient lighting are both functional and imaginative, showing a complete cross section of Hester’s environment to great effect.
The Deep Blue Sea is theatrical magic by any standard and provides a real rollercoaster of emotion throughout – it is a well-deserved revival that should not be missed. https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/nt-at-home-the-deep-blue-sea
Reviewer: Kiefer Williams
Reviewed: 10th July 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★