REVIEW: THE DEEP BLUE SEA (National Theatre)

deep blue sea

The latest production of Terence Rattigan’s famous 1952 play is a highly successful revival from director Carrie Cracknell. Centred on the tragic character of Hester, Rattigan’s heart-breaking story of ongoing ruin and waste in the aftermath of the Second World War is as powerful and relevant today as the contemporary production must have been.

Hester has tried to kill herself – and she failed because she forgot to put a shilling in the gas meter. Almost a year ago she left her life as the wife of a respected barrister, Sir William Collyer, to run away with a dashing ex-RAF pilot, Freddie. It’s a doomed affair, with sinister hints of coercion and abuse, which has eroded her emotional stability and sense of self-worth. Now, we see Hester at her most vulnerable as the storms of her life converge.

Helen McCrory gives a devastatingly powerful performance as the flawed and complex Hester. Her elegance owns the stage and she is equally convincing in her quietly dignified moments of strength as in her pitiful fits of passion. She is supported by Tom Burke as Freddie, who injects impressive depth into his role as the cold-hearted pilot who’s lost his nerve. More than just a callous rouge, Burke’s Freddie has sincere but long-buried compassion and reveals glimmers of self-doubt among the RAF hangover of swagger and bravado.

Peter Sullivan, too, brings warmth and humanity to his role as Sir William. A towering figure of stability and strength rooted to the stage, Sullivan shows us the genuine – if slightly paternalistic – affection he has for his estranged wife. Credit must also go to the hero of the hour Dr Miller, who delivers his character’s quiet and cutting humour to full effect. The final scene between Hester and Miller is the climax of the play’s sustained emotional power and between them they pull off a profoundly tender moment free from affectation or cliché.

It’s a sumptuously detailed production, from the stubbornly present gas meter by the door to the transient feel lent by the suitcase in the living room. The huge set incorporates the whole of Hester and Freddie’s flat and creates the impression of communal London living using translucent screens and effective lighting. To illustrate the point further, we’re treated to a dramatic stylised sequence – the sole departure from realism – of the comings and goings of Hester’s nosey neighbours, accompanied by bold lighting shifts and an eerie soundscape.

In The Deep Blue Sea, Cracknell has achieved an atmospheric and rigorous study of human nature that does justice to Rattigan’s intricately crafted masterpiece.

Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

The Deep Blue Sea plays at the National Theatre until 21st September 2016