Relationships will be the death of me. Being single in your early twenties, there’s an unspoken pressure to finding a mate. Whether you settle for Tom (or Jerry), Dick or Prince Harry, your family and friends are awaiting for your Facebook relationship status to change to “In a relationship with (tagged individual)”, photographs of a ring or baby scan, and the continuous stream of lovers’ tiffs and make ups. Let self-analysis begin.
Despite the single bed of a lonely shadow, I enjoy my freedom. I’m independent, determined to succeed and devoted to the Arts. Waiting for the heart thumps of a true gentle giant, I’m prepared for society’s expectations and judgement to stamp on my confidence. I just never expected the out of the blue thought, “What’s wrong with me?”
With the loving caress of well-loved hand, the National Theatre responded with Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea. Let the deep cleansing begin.
A flat in Ladbroke Grove, West London. 1952.
When Hester Collyer is found by her neighbours in the aftermath of a failed suicide attempt, the story of her tempestuous affair with a former RAF pilot and the breakdown of her marriage to a High Court judge begins to emerge. With it comes a portrait of need, loneliness and long-repressed passion.
Behind the fragile veneer of post-war civility burns a brutal sense of loss and longing.
As a wandering lost soul, Hester Collyer (Helen McCrory) depicts the sorry state of women seeking worth through marriage or relationships. Painting over the cracks, her lover, Freddie Page (Tom Burke) forgets Hester’s birthday and this is the breaking point of emotional overload.
Sacrificing her sanity and idolising Freddie, her desperation pleads for forgiveness of her “crime”. Her suicide letter inked the messy betrayal of the human heart. Words dictated by love, but spoken through Freddie Page’s alcoholic spats. Yet her body trembles her dressing gown and yearns for his touch, preparing for the fight or flight response.
Helen McCrory peels away the superficial and exposes the innards of Hester’s mental trauma. Gracing and disgracing the stage, McCrory white washed disturbing scenes with total silence, swayed to the vinyl tunes of a troubled mind and splashed her tear stained face in the streak of moonlight. Dying to press freeze frame, she was the artist of angelic expression and composition. Trapping herself between two wooden tables and crumbling to the floor, McCrory was on the edge of glory.
Loving the juxtaposition of a grand set, Hester lives in her pokey one bedroom flat whilst her neighbours, Mr Miller (Nick Fletcher), Mrs Elton (Marion Bailey), Mr and Mrs Welch (Hubert Burton and Yolanda Kettle) live above and below. Divided by translucent shaded partitions, neighbours become busybodies, administering comical thrills to interrupt serious suicidal tendencies. Worrying over Hester’s welfare, there are very few moments when Hester is truly drowned in loneliness, but the silence commemorates these moments.
Through the character of Hester and her relationship with Freddie and Sir William, Rattigan can be seen, far ahead of his time, exploring the dilemmas of women who feel they have lost out or never found themselves as individuals because they have been conditioned to shape their whole lives through their menfolk, their marriages and their love affairs.
Michael Darlow, June 2016
The men are loved, adored, worshipped and cherished, but it is their shadows on the blue walls which murk the waters of stability, trust and, most importantly, love. As a respected High Court Judge, William Collyer (Peter Sullivan) was Hester’s husband, but shunned out of marriage from Hester’s relationship with Freddie. The cavemen prowl between these two men exhaust Hester, blurring her balance of desires, wants and needs. Without a man at her centre, she is a lost cause, bound by the men’s betrayal.
Wives were unhappy that their husbands were moody, distant and short-tempered: husbands would spend their evenings with male friends down the pub, treating their homes as lodging houses, and leaving their wives as lonely as they were during the bitters years of separation.
Alan Allport, Demobbed: Coming Home After World War Two, Yale University Press, 2009
Tom Burke provides his Freddie with the pretence of a handsome, sexual satisfying beast, but, as he hits the bottle, he soon warps into a drunken moody and selfish mess. Freaked out by the realisation of his shattered relationship with Hester, his gentlemanly yet loved up flirts suddenly turn bitter and foul.
Exploring masculinity within brutality, Freddie asks his friend, Jackie Jackson (Adetomiwa Edun), for a shilling. Slamming it on the wooden table, he insinuates Hester should use it for the gas meter, providing her with another attempt of suicide. Chatting gas, Hester wants out and, once again, falls victim to man’s providence.
Luckily, Mr Miller provides comfort, security and inspiration to give her a reason for living. He offers hope in her darkness. Being struck off from the medical register, he too understands the dangers of being outcasted. Like a finger of God, he points to her artwork, wishing happiness to seep through the greyed brushstrokes on canvas.
Kicking normality back into the play, the stage still stinks of the visual drenching of rain. Battering Hester for two hours and twenty-five minutes, the woman is drained from life and the air is heavy with conflict. Wanting shouts of aggression or great weeps of desperation, the silence blows up the life jacket and the body just floats towards the horizon of nothingness.
Rescued by a lifeboat, The Deep Blue Sea gulped the tongue, drowned the soul and surfed the emotional tides. Forget the rubber ring and armbands, I watched Hester’s soul swirl and sink to the bottom of the
sea play. Staring blankly ahead and force feeding herself with a burnt fried egg, she became the distress call of fixating life upon the orbit of relationships. The Deep Blue Sea expresses the corruption and neglection of one’s self. Being guided by love is dangerous, it’s only for those who can swim solo.
Big thanks to Theatre Bloggers and the National Theatre.