The Deep Blue Sea, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Tuesday 01 March 2011
Misery's formula is depressingly straightforward. "A loves B, B doesn't love A," observes washed-up flying ace Freddie Page. Shallow, selfish, drunken, not even particularly good looking, Page's analysis of the situation is accurate if prosaic.
It makes Hester Collyer's abandonment of secure married life with boring but dependable lawyer Sir William in favour of the raffish former Spitfire pilot all the more tragic, although where you stand on this question will define how you view not just this play but probably life itself.
Estranged husband and wife see it more elegantly during one of their moving encounters following Hester's failed suicide attempt in a dowdy Notting Hill flat. "Love comforteth like sunshine after rain but lust's effect is tempest after sun," they concur. And so it proves. If only they had gone to the seaside last summer rather than golfing in Sunningdale (where Page was lurking) then none of this would have happened.
But of course it still would: because fondness is just not enough for Maxine Peake's brilliant Hester – a beautiful, passionate, artistic woman struggling to emerge from the shadow of the emotionally stunted men around her.
The Deep Blue Sea was first performed in 1952 at the height of Rattigan's extraordinary fame. Taste for his elegant middle-class dramas disappeared just four years later with the first performance of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger. But the play proved the catalyst for Rattigan's return to theatrical fashion in 1993 and so makes a fitting opening to the writer's centenary year celebrations.
This revival, directed by Sarah Esdaile, is both brilliantly staged and utterly absorbing. There are faultless performances by the entire cast but particularly from John Ramm as Sir William, Lex Shrapnel as Page and Sam Cox as the disgraced doctor Mr Miller.
To 12 March (01923 225671)
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