The Theatreguide.London Review
Deep Blue Sea
Lyttelton Theatre Summer 2016
Terrence Rattigan was the author of deceptively quiet and genteel dramas – deceptive because their polite veneer keeps cracking to expose the passions and pains beneath.
His recurring subject was the danger inherent in the British stiff upper lip, that a cultural refusal or inability to show emotion leaves the English ill equipped to cope with real emotion when it hits them.
The Deep Blue Sea starts with a soap opera premise. An upper class woman has left her husband for a younger and more common man, and fear of losing him has driven her to an attempted suicide.
But neither the situation nor the characters remain cliches for long. The woman is neither tragic nor ridiculous, but someone experiencing a passion she understands she cannot control and attempting to cope with it as best she can.
Her lover is no cad, but an amiable and even honourable guy whose only sin is that, while he does love her in his fashion, he is simply not capable of the depth of feeling and commitment to match hers.
And even the cuckolded husband is neither comic nor vengeful, but sincerely concerned for his wife and trying to make the best of things until his own limits are reached.
Carrie Cracknell's production finds all the play's insights and nuances while never violating its quiet tone, even at the risk of underplaying what might in other hands be more flashily dramatic moments.
The play is often staged as a star vehicle, but it is no reflection on Helen McCrory's performance in the central role to say that here you will be as aware of (and sympathetic with) the emotional journeys of the two men.
Tom Burke 's portayal of the lover is so rounded and charitable that he threatens at moments to steal the play's centre. He's a genuinely nice guy who has found himself in a situation way out of his depth.
He has the intelligence to see that there is no painless way out and the courage and honour to choose from bad options the one that seems least bad.
And Peter Sullivan as the husband shows us a man who is not only trying to do the proper thing, but who is culturally conditioned to be unable to think and feel beyond what is proper.
With all the good will in the world, he simply cannot conceive of the depth of emotion that has overwhelmed his wife, and Sullivan lets us see the man catching, and being frightened by, just a glimpse of his own inadequacy.
At the centre, Helen McCrory seems as an actress to resemble some of the Rattigan characters, in that she is more comfortable in the scenes in which her character suppresses her emotions with shallow and polite conversations than in the moments when she must show those emotions escaping the woman's control.
I've seen more powerfully moving productions of this play, but none that were so evenly balanced.
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