The Deep Blue Sea

Tue 29th May – Sat 2nd June 2012

reviews

Lizhi Howard

at 08:35 on 30th May 2012

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This play is essentially about love in all its painful forms; what we do for love, how we fall out of love, and how we cope once feelings have changed. The action in Rattigan’s play takes place over the course of one day, beginning and ending in front of a gas fired heater. The narrative is driven by the breaking down of a love triangle where, as the play puts it Person A loves Person B in a way that cannot be returned. This production comes together very well in the space and has a solid performance from all members of the cast that help bring this drama the emotional intensity it needs without losing any of the finesse of the writing. The directors and the actors all deal incredibly well with material we might assume is beyond our university years.

Upon entering the BT studio we are greeted by the trappings of what appears to be a well lived in 1950’s flat. There are bottles on the shelves, a box of matches on a table and an oddly pattered but comfy looking sofa. At the back of the stage sits a gas fired heater which remains an ominous temptation throughout the performance. The cast are well rehearsed using the set and props; the box of matches is always where it needs to be, the bottle of whisky empties just at the right point. The lighting it beautifully simplistic, with on stage electric lamps used throughout to contrast the normality of the setting with the heart rending tale, their best usage coming in the quiet closing moments. The choice of the BT as a setting is a clever one as it allows for the audience to honestly feel as if they are peering through the windows on a private domestic.

The cast are very good. Sophie Ablett deals well with a part that requires so much understanding of emotions. She deals brilliantly with Hester’s stoic interactions with her ex-husband her physicality is strong and her voice adaptable. We feel concerned for her welfare throughout and though we may not agree with her actions, Ablett’s mature handling of her role make it very easy to feel sympathy for a character even though we do not necessarily understand her. Jack Light as Collyer acts very well alongside her. His voice and physicality are good and when the script allows he combines to two to show the heartbreak of losing the woman he loves.

Contrast to Ablett and Light’s charming chemistry is provided by Alex Stutt’s Freddie. Whilst Ablett and Light are straight and still, Stutt moves about the set at a rapid pace. He changes seats when agitated, longing about and shifting positions when confined to one space. But by the end of the play he too seems to have adopted the resolute stance of his co actors showing the development of his character. Of particular note is a scene in which Stutt steadily and convincingly works his way down a bottle of whisky. He doesn’t caricaturise being drunk but rather slips easily into relaxing his voice and mannerisms, producing a very convincing portrayal. Also of note is Orowa Sikder as the mysterious Mr Miller who uses a clam and quiet approach to his character will full effect. He is very comfortable with the script that does not provide any answers about his character, saving up a convincing outburst for the final scenes of the play.

There were however a few moments that jarred. Unfortunately volume was a little bit of a problem at certain moments and there were some blocking issues when actors we left upstaged. The opening moments of the play also didn’t quite live up to the excitement promised by the pre-set but this could be down to nerves and limitations within the script.

Overall this is a very promising production. The lead actors are comfortable with the intensity required of the script and they produce genuinely heart breaking moments. The supporting cast are also very good and work well with the machinery of the production. This is a very English drama, Brief Encounter-esqe in style but it still retains an air of freshness. The ending of the production in particular was brilliantly realised by a combination of set, direction and acting but these elements draw together very well in the play as a whole.

I wish I could give half star ratings, but as it is I can only say that if you fancy a play that will lead you on an emotional journey and make you question your perceptions about love then look no further than the BT this week.

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Simon Thomas

at 09:57 on 30th May 2012

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Had Terence Rattigan lived to be a hundred or so, he would have been delighted at the unexpected upturn of his legacy. Often dismissed in the 1950s as old-fashioned, and mocked by contemporaries including John Osborne and Shelagh Delaney, Rattigan was criticised as a late practitioner of the ‘well-made play’. Thankfully something as prosaic as the centenary of Rattigan’s birth last year re-ignited interest in his work, and this production is a worthy addition to the revival of Rattigan.

One of the central tenets of the ‘well-made play’ is the importance of props and the visual, so the set is more than usually significant. The room is dressed like a standard, slightly shabby, lived-in flat – used mugs on the table, array of cushions on the sofa, mismatched art hung along the back wall (though it is a pity, given the later significance of these paintings, that nobody could believe them all the work of one artist.) But perhaps ‘lived-in’ is an unfortunate choice of words – because the final object on the stage, tucked behind the sofa, is a prostrate, lifeless body.

As "The Deep Blue Sea" opens, Hester (Sophie Ablett) has just attempted suicide, through gas and crushed sleeping pills. Only the lack of a shilling in the meter has saved her life. Naturally this raises all manner of questions – to which Rattigan does not give answers, although, like Chekhov’s gun, we know when a suicide note is spotted that eventually it will be inopportunely found by someone significant. Hester is discovered by landlady Mrs. Elton (Leonie Nicks, who does wonders with a regional accent) and neighbours Philip and Ann (Ollie Forrest and Astrid Nestius-Brown) – but reveals nothing of her motives to them, nor to the mysterious Miller (Orowa Sikder) with medical expertise but no ‘Doctor’ in front of his name. All these people, incidentally, are more than happy to light cigarettes in a room recently filled with gas.

And then begins the play proper. "The Deep Blue Sea" is less an exploration of what drove Hester to suicide than a gradual unravelling of the relationships between Hester, her estranged husband William Collyer, and the man she loves, Freddie Page (played by Jack Light and Alex Stutt respectively.) The strength of the production lies with these three actors, all of whom are exceptionally good in their roles. In what could have been a hysterical play, it is presumably to the credit of directors Marc Pacitti and Alex Hill that the overall tone is consistently quiet and subdued – even melancholic. This does stamp some of the humour from the play - Rattigan’s one-liners are occasionally delivered mournfully – and some of the supporting cast appear semi-conscious, rather as though they had recently been victims of gas-leaks themselves, but it is mostly an excellent decision, permitting the emotional intensity of "The Deep Blue Sea" to unfurl devoid of histrionics. Against this calm backdrop, Alex Stutt’s Freddie is wonderfully exuberant – and, later, equally gloriously tipsy and worked-up – the contrast working perfectly, and Stutt delivering a believably bewildered performance.

What will always make or break "The Deep Blue Sea" is the performance of the actor playing Hester. Well – Sophie Ablett is good. In fact, she is astonishingly good. One of the best actors I’ve seen in eight years of attending student productions. When Peggy Ashcroft played the role, a reviewer wrote that ‘she achieves her effects with the utmost restraint, it would be easy in this part, but wrong, to tear a passion to tatters’. Ablett performs with the same subtlety – in every inflection, every twist of the ring on her finger, she embodies Hester’s combined determination and desperation, with a complex emotional range from barbed wit to abandoned humiliation. She is a triumph.

In a show not without faults (of which the easiest to fix would be a word in some actors’ ears about speaking audibly and not turning one’s back to the audience) there are three exceptional performances from Light, Stutt, and – above all – Ablett. The revival of Rattigan took a great deal of time to happen, but this production is not the least of its successes.

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