The Deep Blue Sea -National Theatre 18/6/2016

I've read the play and formed my interpretation of the text. The physical play has divided opinions of those who have seen it before me. If you've read my summation of the book you will know that I formed am empathetic view of Freddie. Some people said that my opinion would change once I saw the live performance. I got the impression that people thought Freddie was a cad and a bounder for the way he treated Hester, whilst others couldn't see what he offered Hester or why she would want to leave her marriage for him. Rattigan has produced a piece of theatre which when you strip away the veneer, you see more than a distraught woman who craves our sympathy or a boorish man who should be tarred and feathered for treating Hester so mercilessly.

The cast and creative team should be proud of themselves for this heart rending, roller coaster of emotions, production. The stage is a large space, filled with a blue hued two story building. We can clearly see inside Freddie & Hester's flat, but we can also see the almost silhouetted images of the staircase leading to the other floors of the house, and the comings and goings from these flats at different points within the play. Seeing all of the action outside of the main part of the play, adds to the feeling that whilst Freddie & Hester's lives are falling apart, life carries on around them. You can see the close proximity of how everyone lives and how hard it is to keep a secret in such surroundings.

The play commences with the landlady letting herself into Hester's flat. There is a strong smell of gas, and the neighbour Philip Welch notices Hester's slumped body by the fire. She has tried and failed in a suicide bid. Whilst trying to make sense of the situation, a neighbour is called to give medical attention to Hester. Somehow it slips out that Hester is not married to Freddie, and as no-one knows how to contact him, Welch decides to telephone Hester's real husband to advise him that his wife has had an "accident."

Always tell the truth...

Hester, played with a certain fragility by Helen McCrory, makes a rather quick recovery and tries to sweep the serious events of the night before under the carpet. She removes her suicide note from the fireplace and pops it in her dressing gown pocket. This seems an innocuous thing to do, but it certainly plays an important role about how future events unfold. Hester makes it clear to the Welch's and her landlady that Freddie is not to be told about 'her little accident'.

Those who think that Freddie's reaction about Hester's suicide bid is a callous response must try and think about the life he has led so far. Hester herself says his life ended with the war. He is a man who is emotionally scarred from a life in the RAF, who can not help but find himself feeling hurt, angry and betrayed by this woman with whom he has tried to form a meaningful relationship with. The fact that she has tried to cover up the suicide attempt makes things can he trust her if she can't trust him enough to tell him how she feels? Tom Burke conveys this wealth of emotions brilliantly. I never feel much sympathy for a simpering character who feels sorry for themselves. When I read the play I wanted raw fury, and Tom delivered this perfectly. He is outraged that someone who is loved so deeply could do such a thing to him. Freddie is a vulnerable character, he hides behind a gruff persona, but the heart to heart he has with Jackie Jackson shows what a multi-faceted person he really is.

A toxic affair...

I admire Freddie for taking the bull by the horns. It was a difficult decision for him to make, but it was the right one, "I know this is right, you see. I know it, but with your gift of the gab, you'll muddle things up for me again, and I'll be lost." Tom Burke's portrayal was not of a weak man that warranted sympathy, but of a tormented soul, a man who has been through the mill; a man who then has such a shock that he realises being in love with Hester is not enough, their relationship is too toxic. He has started living his life through the oblivion of alcohol and she is so unhappy that she has tried to kill herself. He knows they have to part and he has to be the one to end it.

Two private conversations between Hester and Collyer, and Freddie and Jackie, show just how disparate Hester and Freddie view their relationship. Collyer: "You said just now his feelings for you hadn't changed." Hester: "They haven't Bill. They couldn't you see. Zero minus zero is still zero."

But in a separate conversation, Freddie: "Hell, it's not that I'm not in love with her too, of course I am. Always have been and always will." He then expands on this statement, he allows the audience to see him for who he is, he has always been faithful whilst he has been with Hester, he was the one who wanted to wait for her divorce; he was the one for who "All this hole-in-the-corner stuff gets me down." Whilst Hester does not believe that Freddie has ever loved her, it is clear that in his mind he does. He has done everything she has wanted because of his depth of feeling for her.  As Freddie is having this conversation, it becomes increasingly clear that he knows that Hester had been serious in her suicide attempt, she hadn't been playing a joke on him or seeking attention, and you can sense that this really has been a devastating blow for him. We see a war hero, crushed to the core and despairingly trying to answer why Hester would do such a thing. Even Freddie was capable of realising it was for far more than him forgetting her birthday.

For those who have such a negative viewpoint of Freddie, if he hadn't cared about Hester, he wouldn't be feeling such a strength of anger. He would have a feeling of indifference, and that would have been a far worse character than the one we see, angry, shouting and drinking himself into oblivion. If he hadn't cared, then the audience could be forgiven for thinking Freddie a cad and a bounder! But it is the fact that he obviously does care that means my sympathy lies more in Freddie's corner than Hester's.

Just what do you mean by "love" Hester?

Hester appeared to me as a rather needy character. Freddie put it succinctly when he said to Jackson "A clergyman's daughter, living in Oxford, married the first man who asks her and falls in love with the first man who gives her the eye."

Hester will have wanted for nothing as a clergyman's daughter, but she may have had aspirations of mixing with a higher society than that which she was used to. In her conversations with Collyer, it is clear she enjoyed the parties and the socialite aspect of her marriage, (as opposed to going on a pub crawl with Freddie) but there was obviously something lacking from her marriage for her to leave everything for the first man who paid her some attention. Collyer did not love her in the manner in which she wanted to be loved, this is later echoed in her relationship with Freddie, as she believes he has never loved her. With respect to her relationship to Freddie, when you watch this particular performance, it is evidently untrue that he never loved her.

In the book I didn't feel any sympathy towards Hester, all of my emotions were poured into "poor" Freddie. But Helen McCrory's portrayal of Hester did soften me. There were times I wanted to hug her and tell her everything would be OK.  The character Miller figuratively performed that role. He has obviously suffered in his past, he was once a doctor, but stripped of that job in disgrace. Nick Fletcher played the role with great restrain, he didn't overdo it with the emotions, but he made it clear he had suffered in his past.  His slight German accent and comment about living on the Isle of Man for some time made me wonder if his past had included being a a Jewish internee at the Hutchinson Camp? Whatever his past, he had come to the point where he no longer wanted to live life, but he had got through those difficult times. Whilst his new job as a bookmaker was not ideal, it allowed him to pay his rent, and he continued his work for free in a hospital. He had a new life, and he informed Hester that she could too, if that is what she wanted, but she would have to do it for herself.

There is a callous swine...and it's not Freddie.

It is interesting that towards the beginning of the play, Welch describes Miller as 'a callous swine' however, towards the end of the play I think he is the one who deals the hardest, callous blows to Hester. His attitude is far worse than anything Freddie or Miller dishes out. He enjoys his role of the man of the house. His wife dotes on him, she looks up at him proudly when he is on the telephone being so commanding; but he is a bully unlike Freddie; one who subtlety abuses those around him. It is pure arrogance of him to tell Hester he knows how she feels, to compare her feelings to his. He had become infatuated with an actress that he 'thought he loved'. His answer to the problem was to go on holiday "I know if you do think things out honestly, you'll see how awfully petty the whole thing really is - when you get it in perspective." I could feel myself drawing a sharp intake of breath and desperately wanting Hester to slap him! Hubert Burton should be commended for his performance of this odious man!

'Sorry to have caused so much bother'

The play is to be commended on all fronts. It is a play full of facades; the stage mirroring the issues that the characters are dealing with. Whilst the story is heart wrenching and full of angst and despair, you are immersed into a world of subtle humour, both in the words of Rattigan and how they are beautifully delivered, especially by Helen McCrory and Tom Burke. When you consider how dark their lives have become, it is admirable that the characters were able to be so flippant with one another.

The Deep Blue Sea is currently being performed at The Lyttelton auditorium at The National Theatre, London until 21st September 2016. National Theatre Live will be screening a performance at various cinemas around the country on Thursday 1st September 2016.