The Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre online
Complex, careful and compelling, with stand-out performances from Helen McCrory and Tom Burke, the National Theatre’s 2016 production of Terence Rattigan’s classic The Deep Blue Sea is an exceptional contribution to theatre.
A tale of longing, desire and inescapable loneliness, The Deep Blue Sea is the ultimate 20th-century graduation from the likes of Ibsen and Chekhov. When Hester Collyer is found unconscious in her apartment after an attempted suicide, secrets from her past begin to unravel and the depths of her loneliness are discovered. Hailed as Rattigan’s greatest work, The Deep Blue Sea is subtle, elegant and steeped in complex psychology, written in intelligent, sophisticated language. Manipulating the dynamics between private heartache and public scandal, it tests the boundaries of social acceptance.
The production stays true to the play’s realism, attempting nothing too complicated, allowing the audience to focus completely on the action and quick dialogue. The entirety of the stage is transformed into Hester’s apartment, creating a performance space that frames both heavy silences and dynamic dialogues. The realism of the set only gives way to subtle blue light shining through the windows, which give the impression that the apartment block is deep under water.
Commanding this large space is Helen McCrory, utterly captivating in her role as Hester Collyer. Her most impressive moments are those quiet and alone on stage, the set trapped in a stillness over which she has total control. She maintains an incredible emotional intensity throughout, her energy never wavering as she manipulates the complex psychological nuances of a woman wrought with shame, longing, obsession and utterly desperate to be free.
McCrory and Peter Sullivan, in the role of her abandoned husband, expertly negotiate Rattigan’s quick, intelligent writing, keeping it sharp, witty and always utterly digestible. Tom Burke adds a careful complexity to Mr Page, who might easily have been two-dimensional. He transforms the dynamic on stage, dictating the space and wordplay, breaking down the chemistry between McCrory and Sullivan. The light, tasteful comic relief is artfully executed by the cast, never subtracting from the play’s intensity nor forfeiting its carefully constructed atmosphere.
Absorbing, intense and a little emotionally exhausting to watch, this is a powerful production of an understated classic.
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith