The Deep Blue Sea Proves Rattigan Is Timeless: Review

The Deep Blue Sea, National Theatre ★★★★★

By Chris Bridges Last edited 26 months ago
The Deep Blue Sea Proves Rattigan Is Timeless: Review The Deep Blue Sea, National Theatre 5

Terence Rattigan's plays became unfashionable in the late 1950s. His middle class drawing-room comedies and dramas seemed archaic when compared to the new wave of theatre. But this revival of The Deep Blue Sea shows how wrong it would be to dismiss Rattigan as anything less than timeless.

A woman driven to desperation by unrequited love; Helen McCrory's staggering version of Hester is not so different from today's besotted lovers either: reaching compulsively for the phone, bargaining and pleading. Most of us have been between the devil and the deep blue sea at least once and given thought as to whether the sea is a better option than the devil.

This is raw emotion but with a clipped accent. Hester feels resonant and relevant. It's a masterful portrait of a woman both defined and confined by the men in her life. There's nothing twee or genteel here either. Although no longer shocking to see a woman driven mad by lust, it's no less impactful.

Hester could be difficult to like. She's endured nothing worse than a middle-class childhood as a vicar's daughter and chosen to leave a comfortable marriage with a man who is by no means a monster. Leaving her Eaton Square home for Freddie, a young test pilot, she's holed up in a boarding house in down-at-heel Ladbroke Grove. She's suicidal and suffering the pangs of unreturned love.

The skill of the play is that Hester is credible and easy to empathise with. Unsurprising, as Rattigan based this on a personal experience of loss. His lover of 10 years, Kenny Morgan, left him for another man and depressed, gassed himself in 1949. Hester's plight isn't merely a veiled depiction of a gay man in post-war Britain, though.

Following on from the multi-award winning Medea at The National in 2013 the combination of Carrie Cracknell and McCrory doesn't disappoint. McCrory inhabits the impressive set with an understated poise, veering from gentility to rage, through polite chitchat to revealing glimpses of the sexual thrall she's held in. She's gripping from the first moment she appears.

Tom Burke is suitably immature yet wise as the tortured Freddie and Peter Sullivan conveys the restrained distress of her husband with style. The cast of residents wander in and out, inhabiting the transparent boarding house, bearing witness to and adding dimensions to the human drama.

This is captivating stuff indeed.

The Deep Blue Sea continues at The National Theatre until the 21 September. Tickets £15-£65 with a limited number of discounts for each performance. More information can be found on the National Theatre Website Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.

Last Updated 10 June 2016