Emotionally charged study of obsession on Spalding screen

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Review of The Deep Blue Sea, by National Theatre Live, at South Holland Centre in Spalding.

The Deep Blue Sea begins with the arresting image of a woman (Helen McCrory) slumped in front of a gas fire in a squalid flat.

She is Hester Collier, a clergyman’s daughter who has left her upper-class husband, Judge Sir William Collyer, to live with her lover, Freddie, a veteran of the Battle of Britain and now an unemployed test pilot who drinks too much.

In despair because Freddie’s love for her seems lukewarm (he’s forgotten her birthday), while her passion feels overwhelming, Hester has attempted suicide. As she says to her landlady Mrs Elton: “When you’re between any kind of devil and the deep blue sea, the deep blue sea sometimes looks very inviting.”

The play explores the various emotions not only of Hester and Freddie, who tells his friend Jackie that he “can’t be a ruddy Romeo all the time”, but also of Sir William, and another couple – Philip and Ann Welch – who react very conventionally to Hester’s plight.

Terence Rattigan described the play as “a study of obsession and of the shame that a sensitive, clear-minded and strong-willed woman must feel when she discovers she has inside her a compulsion that seems too strong for her to resist”.

Suicide at that time was illegal, which is perhaps why Hester is drawn to Mr Miller, a mysterious ex-doctor and fellow tenant, who has been struck off the medical register for an offence that is only hinted at, but is probably homosexuality.

McCrory’s performance was compelling and emotionally charged, her displays of tenderness, anger and despair always watchable. The actors playing Freddie (Tom Burke) and Collyer (Peter Sullivan) swing around her, while both Mrs Eldon (Marion Bailey) and Mr Miller (Nick Fletcher) seem under-characterised. At his best, Burke is convincing as a frustrated character. However I felt that the actors, although all good in their own right, came across as disjointed in terms of the whole performance.

As always it is a pleasure to see a top quality play in the comfort of your own local theatre and although I do not rate this as a favourite, the National Theatre never disappoints.

Penny Bristow