The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Deep Blue Sea
Almeida Theatre and BBC 1994, YouTube Summer 2020
My watching the National
Theatre's current online broadcast of Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea
inspired YouTube's algorithms to dig up and recommend this 1994 version,
adapted by the BBC from an Almeida Theatre production.
Worth seeing on its own
merits, it serves as an interesting counterpart to the newer one, often
strong where the other is weak and weak where it is strong.
Rattigan's story is of a
respectable middle-class woman who leaves her husband for a younger man,
only to discover that neither man has the emotional depth to be able to
love as fully and passionately as she.
The subject, as in many of
Rattigan's plays, is the British cultural fear of emotion, the
stiff-upper-lip that makes a whole people either afraid of real emotion,
incapable of it, or overwhelmed when it hits them.
Penelope Wilton is perhaps
best known today from TV's Downton Abbey, where she played the
charity-minded older woman constantly sparring with Maggie Smith, their
weapons of choice being the arched eyebrow and genteel put-down. She has
primarily been a stage actress, with a long career with the National
Theatre and the West End.
What Wilton brings to every
role she plays is the impression of a quick mind, a deep intelligence and
a bemused ironic distance. She invests her character here with those
signature qualities, and therein lie both her success and failure in the
It is clear from the first
scenes that this woman is superior in character and intelligence to anyone
around her. But it is also inescapable that she is stronger, and you will
never really believe in her suicide attempt or that she is helplessly
overcome by her passions.
Colin Firth, looking
uncomfortable in a silly moustache, plays the lover as an amiable bloke
who is just totally out of his emotional depth. Firth is more successful
than most in communicating the man's awareness of his own limitations, and
his chagrin and pain at facing the fact of his inadequacy.
Ian Holm allows the husband
considerably less self-discovery, making the man hide behind the mask of
moral outrage through most of the play. Only in his final scene does he
allow a fleeting vision of the man's own failure to cross his face.
Director Karel Reisz keeps things flowing through the 90 minute broadcast, and the BBC camera placement and editing are expert. But the YouTube upload looks like a copy of a copy of a videotape, with too frequent lapses of picture and sound.
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