Venue: West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Running until: 12th March
Written by: Terence Rattigan
Directed by: Sarah Esdaile
The event of Terence Rattigan’s centenary has sparked many a revival nationwide and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds is no exception in this rush to ceremony that periodically occurs when any theatrical milestone is reached. A Rattigan revival, however, seems perfectly natural even in spite of the centenary; during his lifetime he enjoyed great success and was well known for his crowd-pleasing writing that hit all of the delicately emotional notes of mid-twentieth century, middle England life.
With such an opportunity at hand the WYP has decided to revive Rattigan’s 1952 play Deep Blue Sea which follows the emotionally knotted life of Hester Collyer (Maxine Peake) who must learn to negotiate the turmoil of her previous romantic choices and all of the implications that the younger, hunkier, more unsettled man brings along with him. Unfortunately, in such an endeavour the playhouse, and other theatres around the country, perhaps suffers from assuming that a playwright such as Rattigan who fell out of favour around the sixties when his theatre became outdated would now benefit from a renewed resonance. For me, this was one of the shortcomings of the performance; despite being propped up with reasonably strong performances from a well selected cast, the foundational issues of the play (infidelity, unreciprocated love, loneliness) while of course being interesting and relevant were perhaps not as powerful in this context.
Despite this, the first part of the play did to some extent manage to engage. The characters are strongly written, even if this occasionally descends into cliché, and there are parts that are really quite funny. At times, these moments of humour were overlooked by the cast and a noticeably thinner audience in the second part laid testimony to this. Yet within the first few minutes of the second part it became clear that the absentees would have done well to persevere. The actors had settled nicely into their roles and a much smoother, wittier dynamic soon became evident in the delivery and timing of the cast: something which can only be expected to build and build as the production progresses deeper into its run from this opening night.
The set (staunchly realist as one may expect) was wonderfully put together and the use of mesh walls in the small London apartment added a nicely executed tenseness to the performance as the streams of sometimes inquisitive, sometimes meddlesome and sometimes deeply unwelcome visitors explored the depths of Hester’s flat and life.
The cast was well put together and individual performances by Maxine Peake in the lead role and Lex Shrapnel as her adulterous lover Freddie Page were very well studied and presented. Sam Cox also had the good fortune of filling the role of Mr. Miller, the somewhat shady ex-doctor from upstairs, who was at times very humorously written. These performances were individually very strong; despite a slight lack of unity at first, it was clear from the progression of the performance that a greater coherence would soon develop throughout the next few weeks that would create a more forceful and humorous play.
The evening essentially achieved and will continue to achieve precisely what Rattigan seemed to write for: a somewhat delicate and well crafted exploration of the understated turmoil in middle class life that manifests as an often funny and highly entertaining mid-century piece.