Between the devil and the deep blue sea…


I am going to move away from food posts for this one time. I’ve just seen The Deep Blue Sea at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and felt compelled to share with you all about it. That’s right, this Brummie Tummy has not only gone outside of Birmingham, but actually tried to get a bit of culture into my life. Don’t be scared – It’s not another sign of the impending Apocalypse, what with birds dropping dead out of the sky, thousands of dead fish appearing in some marina and of course, one of my friends eating soft shell crabs).

I love going to the theatre; I think it’s to prove that doing A-Level English wasn’t some great mistake in my life since I now work in the IT Support for a music, DVD and games retailer. However, it’s been a painful few years as I’ve not had the time or opportunity to go as much as I would like to have, therefore have missed some great productions. Still, I was determined to make amends for that this year; I’ve got a few shows lined up and first up was The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Rattigan’s plays have always appealed to me – I love how his plays can move you without necessarily throwing a a long piece of dialogue at you, but it’s almost the subtext that is equally strong in his plays. It’s the centenary of his birth this year so there is a bit of a revival of his works as a result – There is of course this production of The Deep Blue Sea, there is Cause Célèbre at The Old Vic in London, and there is a film version of The Deep Blue Sea coming out this year with Rachel Weisz in the lead role. I first heard The Deep Blue Sea on a radio dramatisation a few years ago and for 2 hours, I was fixed to my radio. Even without any visual aid, I was completely gripped and taken in by the story – a mark of how brilliant a playwright Rattigan was.

The Deep Blue Sea is about Hester Collyer, who leaves her husband Bill (a judge) and a respectable life for a younger man, Freddie (a former RAF pilot) with the promise of new exciting life and love, but given the opening scene is the discovery that Hester has tried to kill herself, you can guess that it’s not working out too well to say the least. The central figure of Hester is a complex one – Her relationship with Freddie is doomed to fail – what relationship could survive when one of them tries to commit suicide? The suicide itself was not a cry for help or because she’s not happy, but rather she wants to spare Freddie the destructive path their relationship has taken a turn to because he’s not capable emotionally of giving her what she needs. She is almost without any hope, but she can’t go back to Bill because she doesn’t love him and whilst Bill may say that he’s still in love with Hester, she knows that Bill is in love with the idea of Hester as a loving wife who stayed at home and was a charming hostess to any guests. That said, she’s still able to (seemingly) try to act as normally as possible after her suicide attempt. Indeed, it was against the law to attempt suicide when the play was first written in the 1950s so throughout the play, it’s referred to as Hester’s “little accident”. The power of Rattigan’s writing is that if you had the lead character in another other play behave this way, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a very selfish thing to do/think. But in The Deep Blue Sea, you are filled with empathy for Hester instead of contempt. Perhaps it’s because the first time we see her is of her suicide attempt, and the rest of the play pieces together her reasons for being driven to such depths, but despite her very warped reasons for trying to end her life – You do completely sympathise with her. As someone pointed out, it’s amazing to think that a man write such a complex and brilliant part for a woman.

It’s hard to write objectively about Maxine Peake in the lead role of Hester right now, as she is sitting a few feet away from me as I type this. But I will say that her performance was absolutely stunning – She made you feel the sense of desperation in Hester’s life, the utter horror when she realises what she’s done along with the repercussions of her actions. That’s not to say the rest of the cast were bad; particular mention should go to Sam Cox as Mr Miller, but it was Maxine Peake who captured your attention completely when on stage (and she was on stage a lot)

I mentioned earlier that there is a film version of The Deep Blue Sea coming out (directed by Terence Davies), I’ve read an interview with Maxine Peake where she was worried that she wasn’t up to the part of Hester given the pedigree of actresses whom have previously played Hester (Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Penelope Wilton amongst others) and especially so with the film version coming up. Well, if Rachel Weisz’s performance in the film is even a fraction as good as Maxine Peake’s in this production was, the film will be quite stellar – And I sincerely hope it is.


1 thought on “Between the devil and the deep blue sea…

  1. Pingback: Popstrami « Brummie Tummy

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