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
National Theatre At Home and YouTube Summer 2020
The National Theatre At Home
series continues with this 2016 revival of Terence Rattigan's 1952 drama,
and it turns out to be a rare case of the broadcast version being
noticeably weaker than the live production.
Like all Rattigan's best
plays, The Deep Blue Sea is ultimately about the British cultural disease
of the Stiff Upper Lip, a hesitation or inability to cope with strong
Here a respectable middle
class married woman fell overpoweringly in love with a younger man and ran
off with him, only to discover that his feelings did not match hers.
The play actually opens with
a failed suicide attempt, but we are quickly directed away from the soap
opera level with the revelation that neither the lover nor the husband she
left is a villain. Both are honourable, well-meaning and loving men who
simply do not and cannot experience emotion on the level she does.
It is she who is the freak in
modern (i.e. 1950) Britain, and she will have to live with the pain of
feeling life more fully than anyone else around her. Meanwhile, the
very most that is offered to the men is a brief, frightening glimpse of
their own emotional inadequacy.
In reviewing the stage
production HERE in
2016, I admired the way director Carrie Cracknell and actress Helen
McCrory did not let this become a star vehicle, the combination of a
controlled performance by McCrory and more attention to the men making the
play almost as much about them as her.
I particularly noted the
sympathy the production showed to Tom Burke's lover, a nice, ordinary,
no-shallower-than-most bloke who was even able to stretch himself to an
awareness that the woman he loved deserved better than he; and to Peter
Sullivan's husband, a man defined, limited but ultimately redeemed by just
trying to do the proper thing.
Despite the use of multiple
cameras and close-ups, some of these insights into the men seem to be lost
in the video version, and we see them too much from the outside. This
pushes our attention back onto Helen McCrory, whose subdued performance
can't quite carry the evening.
Nick Fletcher gives strong
support as a helpful neighbour, but the video version makes us
particularly aware of how pointlessly overcomplicated Tom Scott's
multilevel stage design is – pointlessly because nothing really happens on
the other levels.
Watching this Deep Blue Sea you might be able to see where the play wants to take you in psychological insights and emotional depths, and onstage the production sometimes did. But here you will have to fill a lot of it in for yourself.
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