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The Deep Blue Sea

Terence Rattigan
Theatre Royal Bath production
Vaudeville Theatre
(2008)

Production photo

When he wrote this popular hit in 1950, first performed in 1952, Terence Rattigan was the darling of the London stage.

Like Freddie Page in the play, whose life ended in 1940 when he left the RAF, an equivalent fate met his creator aixteen years later, when the well-made play was left for dead by the kitchen sink dramas of angry young men led by John Osborne.

In that light, seeing Rattigan's plays today is like looking into the age of the dinosaur and, for many, trips back to pre-historic times are pleasant diversions.

Edward Hall is one of our finest and most novel interpreters of Shakespeare, but when he takes on more modern works, lacks the same consistent vision.

The Deep Blue Sea is a semi-autobiographical tale of passion, with the gender of the protagonist changed as was necessary in an age where homosexuality was illegal. The original production featured Peggy Ashcroft and launched the career of Kenneth More in a characteristic role as a heartless, dissolute ex-airman.

The 2½ hour three-act drama opens with Hester Page or Collyer, take your pick, saved from self-destruction due to her failure to put a shilling into the gas meter. This of itself might cause problems for visitors, who may not know what either a shilling or a gas meter is. Much else about this production (but not Freddie's sparkling modern golf clubs) is equally dated.

Hester, like her namesake in Hawthorne, is a scarlet woman, both in behaviour and dressing gown. She has left decent, rich Judge Collyer (Simon Williams) to make a shabby home in Ladbroke Grove with drawling, drunkard Freddie, played by the appropriately handsome Dugald Bruce-Lockhart.

She is deeply in lust with the dashing former flyer, although Greta Scacchi's overly-hysterical performance never really explains why she should have married the older man, nor left her comfortable home and the social circle to which she was so obviously devoted for someone who cared for her not a jot.

Hall has decided that these days, one cannot play Rattigan straight and asks all of the bit part players to over-act and go all out for laughs, especially the rather good Tim McMullen playing a German defrocked doctor turned lugubrious bookie's clerk.

The best moments are provided when Simon Williams injects a dose of much-needed dignity in his judicial role, showing impeccably decent Bill Collyer to be a man still deeply in love and willing to forgive, though goodness knows why.

Otherwise, this is hard going, unless you get swept up by the comedy or the chance to see a rare stage appearance from screen star Greta Scacchi.

This production was reviewed on its pre-West End tour by Pete Wood at Cheltenham and by Sheila Connor at Guildford

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Reviewer: Philip Fisher