‘Love comforteth like sunshine after rain and
lust’s effect is tempest after sun.’
Back at the National Theatre is the Medea duo, director Carrie Cracknell and actress Helen McCrory, who have reunited to take on Terence Rattigan’s masterpiece The Deep Blue Sea.
Rattigan was a man who knew heartbreak after a tragic love affair with Kenny Morgan, and drew on his own painful and raw emotions and poured them all into his writing. It took almost three years for him to finish The Deep Blue Sea and its depth is the result of Rattigan’s own cathartic journey which is evident in this eloquent piece. It’s a very honest account of love and lust and the shattering aftermath of unrequited love.
Hester (Helen McCrory) is desperate and alone. Once drunk on infatuation with her RAF lover Freddie (Tom Burke) she has been left with an almighty hangover of emptiness and isolation that pushes her to the brink of suicide. She was once married to a respectable High Court Judge whose love has never faltered, but fled her life of privilege for one of desire and passion. In a harsh dose of reality, Hester is faced with overdue rent, an alcoholic lover and loneliness in her claustrophobic Ladbroke Grove apartment.
The loneliness is palpable with the prolonged moments of deafening silence. Hester sits reflective in the shadows of Tom Scutt’s beautifully evocative set, submerged in her own grief for a life that once was. It’s post-war London and Freddie longs for the camaraderie of his troops and has thrived on the excitement of life vs death fighting in the war. He basked in the thrill of the affair with Hester but now their lust is struggling to survive under her smothering affection and leaves Freddie gasping for air.
Helen McCrory gives a heartrending performance as the emotionally fragile Hester. She perfectly captures a woman insecure, neurotic, in love and exhausted but battling with the restraints of societies emotional repression. She has nearly gassed herself to death and yet moments later she is out of bed, composed and puffing on a cigarette thinking everyone’s reactions are quite unnecessary. However, she draws a deep empathy from the audience with her delicate and sensitive portrayal and it is perhaps in those moments where she barely utters a word that we truly experience her torment.
She is perfectly matched by Tom Burke, who has created a feckless and callous Freddie, displaying all of the characteristics of boy-ish immaturity. It leaves you without question (perhaps more so being a woman) of Hester’s frustration that he can’t even remember something as simple as her birthday. She feels stifled by a housewife society that relies heavily on the existence of men, they are her main point of reference and without them she is lost in limbo, treading water in need of a purpose.
That beacon of light comes shining in in the form of the disgraced Doctor Miller, played superbly by Nick Fletcher. His moody exterior hides a man who’s known struggle and his initial treatment of Hester is one that is cold, unfriendly and clinical, and very different to the other men in her life. In later scenes he is her wake up call, a big slap in the face to fight for life and gain a grip.
Cracknell’s expertly measured production seamlessly injects flickers of humour in all the right spots to ease the intensity. At times it’s wonderfully wallowy and atmospheric with hazy, drunken, bluesy records and lamp-lit rooms offering glimpses into other apartments. It feels quite self-indulgent and Scutt has created a place where you’d like to hide in the dark and contemplate for a while. It really is a beautiful vision and his spectacular visual creations never cease to amaze.
As Hester is once again alone with the faint sizzle of an egg frying on the stove, I thought to myself, at least she’s eating. She’s going to be ok. A haunting production not to be missed.
(Photo courtesy of Richard Hubert Smith)