Salvation can come from unexpected sources. In this play, set in a flat in Ladbroke Grove in West London in 1952, salvation comes from an ex-doctor in the form of a nascent friendship.
It was a most civilized and witty stage drama, and the eternal human story never really gets old.
Lady Hester Collyer (Helen McCrory) is separated from her husband, Sir William Collyer, a High Court judge. She has been living for 10 months with Freddie Paige and is known in the apartment house as Mrs. Paige. We meet her when her landlady, Mrs Elton (a delightful Marion Bailey) and the couple who live upstairs, the Welches, smell gas and come into her flat, finding her wrapped in a quilt in front of the fire.
As suicide attempts go, it’s a poor thing — Mrs. Paige ingested 12 aspirin and forgot to put a shilling in the meter box for the fire so she really didn’t have time to die. But the act will bring about both the end of her relationship with Freddie and a hope for the future. Plus, all the neighbors have now forged a bond.
Mrs. Paige is still married to Sir William (Peter Sullivan). He has not yet filed for divorce. Interestingly enough, in this production, there is a real chemistry between McCrory and Sullivan that is palpable. He is willing to take her back, but she levels a devastating truth at him: “No, Bill, you simply wanted a loving wife.”
She wants love with a capital L — she wants passion and curiosity and partnership. Sir William loves her as much as he is able, but she needs a deeper connection. His misery when he realizes that he is incapable of that is a truly sad moment.
Freddie (“The Musketeers'” Tom Burke), who is an ex-RAF pilot (evidently he loved 1940 and never quite got over the excitement) has lost his job as a test pilot due to excessive drinking. He and Hester share an unbridled physical passion, but her suicide attempt makes him realize that he can’t give her the intimacy she wants and needs. It’s rather hard actually to believe them as a couple — she’s smothering and dramatic and he’s the self-centered, bombastic bad boy.
Then comes Mr. Miller (Nick Fletcher), a doctor who has been struck off and done prison time for some unspecified reason. He is called in to tend to her after the suicide attempt. A moral, gentle man who is fashioning a life for himself, and he turns out to be pivotal to the plot. Mr. Miller also gets the best lines and delivers them in a beautifully dry, understated way with impeccable timing. He holds up a mirror to Hester’s life and demands she take responsibility for it. Of all the characters, his is the most well-drawn.
Hubert Burton plays Philip Welch, who, along with his pregnant wife, Ann (Yolanda Kettle), breaks into the apartment, saves Hester, and contacts her husband, Sir William. Welch plays the perfect impertinent bumbling ‘mansplainer. His wife is obviously smarter. Kettle gives a small part some nice heft. The final character is Freddie’s good mate, Jackie Jackson (an earnest Adetomiwa Edun), who has more sense and scruples than Freddie.
This is a revival of the 1952 play written by Terence Rattigan. It is a rather standard kitchen sink drama, but does give opportunities for good actors to sink into the parts and find nuance. The Miller character brings the play to real life, however, and I wanted to know more about him.
It was a most civilized and witty stage drama, and the eternal human story never really gets old. There is a touch of the class distinctions (Hester was a clergyman’s daughter who married a lord), and also in the distinct whiff of social climbing from the Welches. It also touches lightly on the narrow confines of women’s places in society.
Running Time: Two hours with one small intermission.
Show Advisory: Cigarette smoking, attempted suicide.
“‘The Deep Blue Sea” will run on YouTube through July 16, 2020 by National Theatre, United Kingdom. For watch, please click here.