I wanted to love The Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre starring the extremely talented Helen McCrory but I am going to confess right now that I was more than a little bit bored.
The Deep Blue Sea has not dated well and Hester Collyer’s problems lack modern resonance. Wives and husbands leave each other, trying to commit suicide is not against the law and as for women madly in love with men who do not deserve them, I have spent sufficient time trying to console them in real life to be reluctant to spend an evening watching another one acting it all out on the stage.
The good: well Helen McCrory obvs. This is my second time of seeing her on stage, the second time at the National and there is no doubting her ability to convey a woman on the edge, considering doing something terrible or indeed actually doing it.
If you have seen her Narcissa Malfoy, twisted pain and anguish radiating from her voice and every cell in her body then you will have felt her ability to make you share each agonising emotion.
She is just as good here, as intense as when she was Medea, a woman who made the gut-wrenching decision to murder her own children to be revenged on her husband. But Hester Collyer? Talk about first world problems. I won’t give away the end but there is a satisfyingly mundane answer along the Voltaire “il faut cultiver notre jardin” lines.
Musketeers’ star Tom Burke, the troubled Airman for whom McCrory’s Hester has left her husband, is lacklustre. Charismatic on television, his measured delivery drags in the theatre and it is very hard to see what on earth Hester sees in him. He may warm up as the run progresses and this may give the play the oomph it needs but at the moment he reminds me of a review of Alan Rickman (RIP) playing Mark Antony which dubbed him Eyeore miscast as Tigger.
The minor characters are far more interesting and I felt real sympathy for them. Hester’s wise, kindly husband– played with convincing decency by Peter Sullivan– has to try to pick up the pieces of a woman who has humiliated him while Nick Fletcher’s stoic Mr Miller, reels from the injustice of being imprisoned and struck off the medical register for an unnamed offence- presumably for being gay which was also illegal in 1950s Britain.
I suspect The Deep Blue Sea would work better in a more intimate setting than the big barn of the Lyttleton or on-screen where you could be immersed in the atmosphere and mores of 1950s Britain.
The last film version had the acting might of Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale whilst there was also a 1955 version with Vivien Leigh and Kenneth More. I am curious to know what these are like but not curious enough to watch them just yet.
Gender switching in theatre can be confusing but I do wonder if this play would benefit from something of the sort, particularly given the speculation that playwright Terrence Rattigan’s work is full of coded references to his own homosexuality. 6/10