Review: The Deep Blue Sea

Image credit: Johannes Hjorth

Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea begins with the failure of Hester Collyer to commit suicide: she has attempted to gas herself but forgotten to put a shilling in the meter.  This combination of tragedy and mundanity which distinguishes the play was wonderfully sustained in this production at Queens’ College. The intimacy of Fitzpatrick Hall served the production well. The set was thoughtful and suggested period detail but wasn’t overly fussy – one minor complaint is that Hester’s pictures evidenced little of her supposed artistic talent and may have been more effective if they had been less visible. The choice of Chopin’s piano music for scene changes worked very well, highlighting the production’s tone of tender melancholy.

The play centres on Hester Collyer, played well by Saskia West in a performance which deepened through the evening. Her anger and shame were touching, and she embraced Hester’s less admirable thoughts and actions in an honest performance which avoided sanitizing or sentimentalizing her. The main cast all acted persuasively, although the minor roles were taken rather too broadly. Particularly outstanding was Robert Hawkins as Hester’s lover Freddy Page; he tended to speak a little too quietly in the search for emotional profundity, but made Page sympathetic in his portrayal of him as a weak man trying to do the decent thing when it would be all too easy to see him as, in Page’s words, a ‘cad’.

Hester’s husband, Sir William Collyer (John Wheatley), at times tended to overact and fluffed a couple of lines but was generally a perceptive presence. Mr Miller (Jerome Burelbach) is not the most immediately rewarding role in the piece, having to advise and philosophise, but Burelbach suggested Miller’s own tragedy without distracting from Hester’s. The director Alistair Henfrey had a strong sense of the play’s direction and build – perhaps at times too strong, as the choices Hester makes about Page, Collyer and her own future seemed a little pre-determined. Particularly with Collyer there was no sense that Hester might have acted otherwise.

The sense of potentiality, the battle between the uncertainty of living and the consolation of suicide, distinguished the evening when it was present and came across particularly well in West’s conversations on the telephone with the absent Page. It was missed a little in concluding encounters of the play, which consequently had its emotional climax fall too early. Generally, however, these were fine performances with thoughtful direction, making for a rewarding evening.


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