BWW REVIEW: The Importance Understanding Your Own Worth Independent Of Anyone Else Is Explored In THE DEEP BLUE SEA.
Saturday 8th February 2020, 7:30pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre
Under award winning director Paige Rattray's considered eye, Sydney Theatre Company opens their 2020 season with Terence Rattigan's THE DEEP BLUE SEA. Humorous, tender, volatile and most of all, though provoking, the importance of finding your own worth when it feels like your is crumbling is proven to be a timeless challenge.
Written in 1952 as an apparent response to Rattigan's ex-lover Kenny Morgan's suicide by gas in a Marylebone boarding house in 1949, THE DEEP BLUE SEA shifts the story to a heterosexual relationship in deference to the era where homosexuality was still illegal in the United Kingdom. The mysterious middle-aged female occupant of a Ladbroke Grove boarding house is found passed out in the rooms she shares with what the other residents believe is her husband. The smell of gas and a bottle of aspirin indicate that, in a state of despair at a love that cannot be returned in the manner she wants, she has tried to take her own life but thankfully her ignorance of the intricacies of the shillings and pence world which she has found herself in has thwarted her plans. The woman is Hester Collyer (Marta Dusseldorp), the estranged wife of Sir William Collyer (Matt Day), a prominent London lawyer. The cause of her despair is the younger former airman Freddie Page (Fayssal Bazzi) for whom she left her life of society dinners and intellectual conversation. Her unlikely savior is fellow boarding house resident, the equally mysterious Mr Miller (Paul Capsis) a Bookie's clerk who, while exhibiting sound medical experience, retreats from any attempt to address him as a medical professional.
Paige Rattray presents a powerful opening scene of a collapsed figure on a bare stage and backdrop that changes from blues to brightness before the world that traps Hester is bought on with balletic choreography by the cast and crew. David Fleischer's expression of Hester and Freddie's rooms are cleanly presented to show the simplicity of the apartment with bedroom beyond folding doors, shabby armchair, gas ring for simple cooking and a coin operated gas heater in the fireplace. The sense that Hester feels trapped in the confined space is reinforced by the walls that sit obviously well within the confines of the Roslyn Packer stage so that visitors to the apartment are seen coming and going with an unapologetic obviousness.
While the text certainly links the work to a post war London, Rattray has opted to allow the performers to present a broader accent that blends English and Australian tones to form somewhat of an old world Australian accent to highlight the fact that the underlying issues of needing a feeling of purpose is universal. This choice also helps the 21st century Sydney audience connect to the 20th century English work and its a testament to voice coach Charmian Gradwell's skill to be able to balance these needs.
As the central focus, Marta Dusseldorp delivers a compelling expression of a fallen society woman now caught by the conventions of the society of her time and her own desires. Whilst it is much more acceptable for a woman to decide that the choices they made in younger days aren't what they want now, Hester's 1950's London society would have shunned her for leaving her advantageous marriage for a younger fly-boy, no matter how esteemed he was as an RAF pilot. She conveys the air of coming from much more comfortable conditions in the way she moves, talks and interacts with her fellow boarders, husband and lover, while also expressing the damaged soul within.
Matt Day and Fayssal Bazzi ensure the two men in Hester's life are distinctly different but while Day, as William Collyer, expresses an undertone that the older man still loves her, Bazzi doesn't quite have the chemistry with Dusseldorp to make it believable that once upon a time Freddie and Hester caused fireworks. Day has wonderful gravitas while also conveying that William Still cares for Hester despite what she has put him through and his own somewhat vindictive turn at making a divorce harder for her. Freddie is a damaged man in that he is possibly experiencing trauma from his days as a RAF pilot and later a test pilot and Bazzi captures the resulting volatility well as he flips in his responses, both to Hester and his old flying buddy, the somewhat meek Jackie (Charlie Garber), but it is hard to feel much for the man as it seems he is more concerned what people will think of him if Hester's plan had worked.
The minor characters that inhabit the boarding house help reinforce that Hester is in a world very foreign to her background. As young married couple Mr and Mrs Welch, Brandon McClelland and Contessa Treffone are a delightful comedy relief to the weight of the story. They deliver some fabulous slapstick physical humour and both are endearing in their old world homespun simplicity with Treffone expressing Mrs Welch's amusing 'glee' at having something exciting happen in their otherwise simple lives and McClelland presenting Mr Welch as a well meaning but bumbling fool, sharing too much with a woman that is still greatly unstable. Vanessa Downing's portrayal of landlady Mrs Elton is amusing as she expresses a care for her tenants while also being incredibly loose lipped with their secrets.
The pivotal character to the key message of the piece is presented with a gorgeous constrained camp expression by Paul Capsis. He is a perfect fit for Mr Miller, the man that holds great wisdom and many secrets and possibly represents what Rattigan may have wished he could have said to Morgan. He allows his expression of Mr Miller to grow as the story progresses, dropping his guard from wary and hesitant to open and forthcoming as he connects with Hester's plight. His facial expressions are brilliantly telling and he drops Rattigan's brilliant lines with precision timing that lands with perfect comedic power and devastatingly wise gravity in turn. His turn to the audience after Mr Miller tells Hester "What Right have they to judge" is a perfect challenge for everyone to consider how they treat others.
While the modern world allows people, particularly women, to be defined as more than who they marry or are in a relationship with, there are still many people that anchor their worth and purpose to having the love of another person. THE DEEP BLUE SEA helps to challenge that notion and remind audiences that they need to find their own place and purpose in the world, independent of anyone else and other people's expectations. Well worth seeing.
Photos: Daniel Boud