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BWW Review: THE DEEP BLUE SEA, Chichester Festival Theatre

BWW Review: THE DEEP BLUE SEA, Chichester Festival TheatreBWW Review: THE DEEP BLUE SEA, Chichester Festival Theatre

The second production housed at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester's 2019 line-up is Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea. Written after the writer lost his lover Kenny Morgan to suicide, the play details the day that follows Hester Collyer's attempted one. When her nosy neighbours find her unconscious body, they contact her husband Bill - a judge and established member of London's high society - whom she left ten months prior to jump head-first in a passionate affair with Freddie Page, an ex-RAF pilot who's now unemployed and struggling.

Director Paul Foster's staging of internal turmoil and post-war gloom is in sublime form. He assembles a colossal cast with Nancy Carroll at the helm, who offers Hester as a powerhouse of emotions. She strives for independence while presenting a character ruled by her feelings and, most of all, by a clear lack of identity.

However, she also knows and recognises the power of her sex in the face of the men in her life. She is poised and blasé, exacting in her will and confident in the result of her actions - until she isn't anymore and gloriously crumbles in a landslide that tears down all her connections.

Gerald Kyd and Hadley Fraser stand in rivalry as her husband and her companion, respectively. Their divergences start visually with their costumes and demeanours and run deep into their portrayals. Where Kyd is statuesque, Fraser is tormented and hyperactive; the latter's dry wit, panache, and restlessness are balanced by Kyd, whose aplomb and dignity exude quiet and assured charisma throughout.

The diametrical opposition is exceptionally clear in their exchanges with Carroll's Hester and the discordant approach she takes with the two. The lack of passion between the spouses is overcompensated by the fire that runs between her and Freddie, from their sexual attraction to the hot-headed and dramatic fight that ends with her begging him not to leave her alone that night especially, they are tied in chemistry.

The supporting cast is equally remarkable, acting as comedic relief and alleviating the overly charged atmosphere built up by the trio. Matthew Cottle is a welcome presence particularly, bringing an air of muted security and nonchalance to the scene and serving as an odd guide for a lost Hester.

Foster's production in safely classical in its delivery. He keeps the period setting and costumes, introducing a sectional cutoff of the Ladbroke Grove flat rented by the lovers. Just as the bricks are laid bare and the room appears stripped off of its protections from the outer world, so do the characters. He takes his time to explore betrayal and anguish and when the accumulation finally climaxes, the beehive he's stirred on the scene explodes in a fit of irrational intensity.

War and its aftermath frame the story visually as well as emotionally: black rubble lines the Minerva's stage, pieces of walls and furniture lie there as a cutting reminder of the horrific events that occurred in Peter McKintosh's finely detailed and realistic set (the darkened toy plane placed among the debris right where the audience walks in is only an example of the designer's finesse).

The director transforms the characters into satellites that revolve around each other and sets off a seductive dance. Gossip and curiosity make them human, while their intensified emotional states become a mirror into the instability created by the end of World War II. Rattigan's exploration of post-war insecurity is embodied in Fraser's portrayal.

He is jittery and anxious, trapped into a vicious circle of uselessness and frustration, his savoir faire can't hide the fact that Freddie lives in apprehension of his own position. A flamboyant drunk, Fraser turns his puerile fits into displays of inexcusable fragility in an exquisitely crafted performance.

A passionate and heartbreaking examination of a woman's journey through expectations and intimacy, Foster's take on The Deep Blue Sea is as enthralling performance-wise as it is specific in its visuals, coming together in a gorgeous piece of stagecraft.

The Deep Blue Sea runs at the Minerva Theatre at Chichester Festival Theatre until 27 July.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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From This Author Cindy Marcolina