NT Live: The Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre
National Theatre Live takes the action from the stage onto the big screen and in doing so enables audiences far and wide to simultaneously share an experience usually reserved for a limited number. Undoubtedly, the energy of the stage is irreplaceable, as is the unique aura of actors in the flesh. Notwithstanding, the opportunity to see shows that may otherwise be out of reach has proven to attract enough interest in recent times to make this a very popular and fast-growing trend.
The Deep Blue Sea has seen a few revivals over the years. Transmitting playwright Terence Rattigan’s rather bleak outlook, however, can make it a challenge to keep the piece dynamic and ensure that it does not collapse into melodrama.
The action begins with the attempted suicide of Hester Collyer, the estranged wife of a well-known barrister now sharing a shabby apartment with her new lover, former RAF pilot Freddie. Dissatisfied with Freddie’s careless, inattentive ways, Hester sees death as a more desirable option than lack of love. The neighbours – a young conventional couple, a former doctor previously imprisoned for homosexuality, and a gossipy landlady – all intervene and intrude into Hester’s affairs. Meanwhile, her ex-husband Sir Collyer re-enters her life when notified of the incident.
Through its broken characters, the play presents different facets of post-war struggle, but at the core of The Deep Blue Sea is the idea of survival as largely dependent upon human connections and emotional well-being. Thanks to the cast’s ability and their command of the text’s nuances, the emotional intensity is kept in check and never descends into sentimentality. The trio of protagonists give sophisticated performances that lose none of their power through the screen. Helen McCrory is a striking Hester, balancing on a thin thread between immense fragility and a feeble yet reflexive instinct to keep going.
The set design provides a good frame for the action as it displays Hester’s living space in all its plainness while also alluding to the ever-present eyes and ears of her neighbours by having gauze walls above that show them moving around like shadows. While the subtleties are lost and the theatre’s audience appears to be more vocal and perhaps more engaged than the cinema’s, there is still an appeal in bringing together the immediacy of stage acting with the special filter of a cinema screen. The strong double direction of stage and cinematography is the point that solidifies the production’s success. Thanks to the clever camera work, director Carrie Cracknell’s flawless staging of the play translates seamlessly into an almost impeccable piece.
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Deep Blue Sea is broadcast live to cinemas from 1st September 2016, for further information or to book visit here.