Review: THE DEEP BLUE SEA, Theatre Royal Bath

Tamsin Greig is superb in Terence Rattigan's classic tragicomedy

By: May. 14, 2024
Review: THE DEEP BLUE SEA, Theatre Royal Bath
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Review: THE DEEP BLUE SEA, Theatre Royal Bath Tamsin Greig is a marvel as Hester Collyer in Lindsay Posner's new revival of Terence Rattigan's 1950s classic, The Deep Blue Sea, at Theatre Royal Bath's intimate, 126-seater Ustinov Studio.

Being able to get so near to Greig in this close space compounds the claustrophobic sense of Hester's entrapment in a shabby, wallpaper-peeling Notting Hill flat on Ladbroke Grove. Ironically, a similar place today in this chic West London environ could easily set you back three-quarters of a million.

Fast becoming a national treasure, Olivier-winner Greig (Much Ado About Nothing in 2007) has chalked up a string of comedy screen hits, such as Green Wing, Black Books, Episodes and Friday Night Dinner. Now she extends her range in a finely honed, tragicomic performance of the daughter of a clergyman and wife of a judge caught up in a doomed affair with former Battle of Britain pilot Freddie Page.

Hester's stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. We know there's trouble afoot when we hear the strains of "Stormy Weather" at the beginning of each act.

Should Hester stay in a toxic relationship with Freddie – terrifically played by Oliver Chris with 'I say, ole chaps' wartime ebullience blended with out-of-his-depth, lost little boy swirling in Hester's sea of strong emotions? Or should she return to a safe, but chilly existence with husband Sir William Collyer, who turns up formally attired in a chauffeured Rolls Royce? Nicholas Farrell's in excellent form as a desperately confused man unable to understand how to really love in a buttoned-down, post-war England.

First performed in 1952, starring Kenneth More and Peggy Ashcroft, the role of Hester has gone down in history as one of the great roles for women in British theatre. Ashcroft said she felt like she had no clothes on when playing the exposed role of Hester.

Rattigan based the story and characters partly on his secret relationship with actor Kenneth Morgan, who left the playwright for another man. Morgan then gassed himself when his new relationship foundered.

There have been many revivals of The Deep Blue Sea, including the acclaimed 2016 National Theatre version with Helen McCrory and Tom Burke. A film, featuring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale, was released in 2011.

Review: THE DEEP BLUE SEA, Theatre Royal Bath
Tamsin Greig (Hester Collyer) and Finbar Lynch (Miller)

You'd think a mid-20th century play simmering dangerously like a pressure cooker with repressed feelings and unspoken truths would be out of place today where we're encouraged to express ourselves at the drop of a therapist's appointment.

But this subtle and tender interpretation of Rattigan's work heightens the importance of speaking the truth and communicating in an honest way.

There's a great deal of saying one thing and meaning another in Rattigan's masterpiece, with the exception of landlady Felicity Montagu's well-meaning Mrs Elton and straight-talking Miller, an enigmatic, German doctor who's been struck off for undisclosed reasons.

Finbar Lynch's brilliantly depicted Miller is pivotal in helping Hester, who's living with shame, to learn how to respect herself. He says, "To love with one's eyes wide open sometimes makes life very difficult." He presses Hester to "go on living".

Posner's superb direction and cast evoke a portrait of loneliness and need against a backdrop of repressed passion. He gives us a wider view of the damage caused by a brutal war, mainly ignored by a supposed civilised, stiff upper lip society.

This finely-tuned production deserves a transfer to the West End ­– preferably to a sympathetically-sized space similar to the Ustinov Studio, where audiences feel they're in that rundown flat with characters trying to find a flicker of hope.

The Deep Blue Sea runs at Theatre Royal Bath's Ustinov Studio until June 1

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan


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