Thursday 11th July to Saturday 13th July, then Wednesday 17th July to Saturday 20th July 2019
Directed by Andrew Caple
When Hester Collyer is found by her neighbours in the aftermath of a failed suicide attempt, the story of her tempestuous affair with a former RAF pilot and the breakdown of her marriage to a High Court judge begins to emerge.
Behind the fragile veneer of post-war civility burns a brutal sense of loss and longing.
The Deep Blue Sea is an extraordinary play. However it becomes all the more poignant when you realise how it came to be written. Terence Rattigan was gay, a fact well known to his acquaintances but concealed from his public. Rattigan was in Liverpool on 2nd March 1949 where his latest play, Adventure Story, was on tour. He was devastated to receive a note that a Kenneth Morgan, a young actor and former boyfriend, had died. Morgan had argued with his new lover and ended up gassing himself in a run-down boarding house, the body being found by a fellow tenant. That night Rattigan announced that his next play would 'open with the body discovered dead in front of the gas fire'.
Rattigan took three years to write The Deep Blue Sea, longer than any of his other plays. A number of the plot elements are lifted directly from the events surrounding Morgan's death. It has even been suggested that Collyer, Hester's estranged husband, is veiled representation of Rattigan himself. He later said it was the hardest of his plays to write.It was rumoured that Rattigan first wrote about a homosexual relationship and then rewrote the play around Hester. There is no evidence that he did this. Rattigan was a commercial playwright and is unlikely to have written a play that could never be performed. With all plays having to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain, a law that was not repealed until 1968, a play about homosexuality would never has been allowed. However, with his personal insight into illicit love, he was able to create a complex and nuanced portrait of a desperate woman of the like previously not seen in British Theatre.
A run-down tenement flat in North-West London. A single day in 1951. Hester Collyer has left her wealthy husband, a man she can't love the way she wants, to live with an ex-RAF pilot, a man who can't love her the way she needs. Left emotionally stranded, she can't see a way forward and going back is unbearable. She's stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. As the day unravels, some desperate decisions need to be made.
Dont miss this opportunity to see Terence Rattigan's exquisitely crafted masterpiece about the inequality of desire. A portrait of need, loneliness and long-repressed passion which burns with a brutal sense of loss and longing. A deeply moving love story hidden behind the fragile veneer of post-war civility with, at its heart, one of the greatest female roles in 20th century theatre.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|Hester Collyer||Leigh Cunningham|
|Mrs Elton||Megan Green|
|Philip Welch||Archie McKeown|
|Ann Welch||Phillippa Thorne|
|Mr Miller||David Penrose|
|William Collyer||Simon Walton|
|Freddie Page||Ben Tanner|
|Jackie Jackson||Jeff Bone|
|Stage Manager||Julie Woods|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Lewis Champney|
|Lighting Design||Andrew Caple|
|Lighting Operation||Alan Ward|
|Sound Design||Jacquie Penrose|
|Sound Operation||Marion Ward|
|Brochure Artwork||Andrew Caple|
|Handbill Design||Dan Finch|
|Set Design||Pete Woodward|
|Front of House||Gina Farmer|
When I joined the Bench I knew nothing about acting, or directing, or plays. However, with the Bench's philosophy that everyone can have a go, I started reading through the Plays section in Havant Library looking for inspiration. One really struck me, The Deep Blue Sea by a Terence Rattigan. I found the situation of the lead character and the impact they had on all those around them incredibly moving. I thought this is the play for me. Even I could direct this. However the Bench Membership thought differently, wisely judging that this would be a stretch to far for my lack of experience. That was 1993.
A lot has happened since then. In 1993, Terence Rattigan was still very much out of favour, his 'well made' middle class plays considered out-of-date, superseded by the late 50's generation of 'Angry Young Men'. Now, fortunately, his star is back in the ascendant. He is increasingly recognised as one of greatest writers in post War Britain and his plays masterpieces of understatement filled with great empathy. Little did I know I was ahead of my time.
The Deep Blue Sea, first performed in 1952, is arguably his best. Kenneth Tynan, the leading critic of his day, said it was 'the most striking new English play I have seen for a decade'. From its (near) explosive start to its edge of your seat denouement it's a powerful account of lives blighted by love - or the lack of it. Given the subject matter, it's neither melodramatic nor overwritten. It's a simple story, economically told, yet so dramatic it hits you like a brick. At its centre is Hester Collyer, one of the greatest female roles in contemporary drama. She is strong willed, filled to the brim with longing, brittle, proud, highly sexual and emotionally complicated who becomes a victim of her own decisions and desires. A dream for actors and directors alike.The other change since 1993 is that the Bench now think I am mature enough to direct it. The first ever Rattigan play to be performed by the Bench. A criminal omission that we are more than pleased to put right. I hope the production proves it was worth the wait.
Director Andrew Caple has entrusted the three principal complex personalities of the play to actors who have taken them run a glorious race. This is very much a coming-of-age for Ben Tanner as Freddie. He's always shown promise and given work of depth – but here he just doesn't stop. From the moment tortured Freddie comes onto the stage until his last, uncomprehending look back as he leaves, Tanner is believable and wonderful. Bench stalwart David Penrose is at his very best here, too. As the stricken-off doctor Miller, all gentle German accent with a hint of mystery about him, Penrose towers. He's never less than watchable in anything he does, but here? Sublime. And then there's Leigh Cunningham as Hester, jilter of one lover, jiltee of another, who paints a subtle, detailed portrait of a soul in anguish. At one point in the second half a noise emerges from somewhere deep inside her that speaks of the hell of rejection such as I've never heard before. Cunningham is ticket-money-alone good. Among the supporting cast, Archie McKeown stands out – but the whole cast are good. Local theatre at its finest.
James George, Portsmouth News, July 2019