First performed and set in 1952, Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea is now considered to be one of his finest plays. He was a master of the “well crafted play”, skilfully writing about emotional characters and their troubles with an acute understanding of the human heart. This one may have been inspired by the suicide of a young actor, Kenneth Morgan, who was Rattigan’s lover, but who killed himself when he was rejected by a third man. It was indeed thought to have been written as an examination of homosexual love, but modified for the obvious legal reasons. The 1950s were the proverbial different country.
The plot of The Deep Blue Sea revolves around Hester, who has left the staid security of her husband, Sir William Collyer, a well-respected judge, for the raffish and charming Freddie. He’s much more exciting and sexy, an ex-fighter pilot with a hero’s reputation from WW2. However, they argue constantly and are just poison to each other. Hester realises that Freddie is alcoholically bored with her, even forgetting her birthday, and thinks her future looks bleak, so she attempts suicide with coal gas and aspirins at the start of the first scene.
Hettie Ladbury really gets into the soul of Hester, making us care about a woman who has made a big mistake, but is firmly hooked and can’t see a way out. It probably wouldn’t be quite like that now, but it was in the 50s. Freddie is equally trapped in the situation and Adam Jackson-Smith reveals to us Freddie’s psychological layers and his desperation as he seeks his own way out. The third corner of the triangle is played with splendidly minimalistic restraint, at least in the first Act, by the gifted Adam Kotz. Together they bring out the tragedy in the piece. These three principals are very well-supported by the rest of the talented cast, especially James Hillier as Mr Miller, the doctor who lives upstairs and who has been struck off for some crime which put him in prison. He is the chorus, wryly commenting on the action of the helpless.
The team that produced this play was the same group who did the excellent All My Sons at the Watermill recently. The brilliant lighting effects are particularly note-worthy; also the classically dingy sitting room set and the great jazz between scenes work really well. The play is directed with sensitivity and style by Douglas Rintoul.
This play is certainly worth revisiting, because it hardly seems dated when the dialogue is so realistic and the predicament still current. There was a lot of animated discussion afterwards!