Monday, February 17, 2020

The Deep Blue Sea

Marta Dusseldorp
in rehearsal for
The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan
Sydney Theatre Company
Photo: Brett Boardman
The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan.  Sydney Theatre Company at Roslyn Packer Theatre, February 4 – March 7, 2020.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 15

Director – Paige Rattray; Designer – David Fleischer; Lighting Designer – Nick Schlieper; Composer and Sound Designer – James Brown.
Assistant Director – Kenneth Moraleda; Fight and Movement Director – Nigel Poulton; Voice and Text Coach – Charmian Gradwell.

Hester Collyer – Marta Dusseldorp; Freddie Page - Fayssal Bazzi; William Collyer – Matt Day
Mr Miller – Paul Capsis; Mrs Elton – Vanessa Downing
Philip Welch – Brandon McClelland; Ann Welch – Contessa Treffone; Jackie Jackson – Charlie Garber

The play begins with a beautiful scene.  A blue ocean extends beyond our horizon as if it stretches on forever.The sky is a clear uninterrupted pale blue.

In the ocean is a tiny island, dark against the light.  A point of focus in this Deep Blue Sea.  This is Hester.  She is her tiny island – her dark world.

By the end of the play we understand, as Mr (one-time Dr) Miller tells Hester, “… the world is a dark enough place for even a little flicker to be welcome.”

Marta Dusseldorp and Paul Capsis
as Hester Collyer and Mr Miller
in The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan
Production Photos: Daniel Boud

Why is clearly-gay Miller no longer entitled to be ‘Dr’?  Because in 1950s Britain, homosexuality was a crime, punishable by jail.

Suicide was also a crime, though quite what the Christian belief behind the law imagined would be the punishment is a moot question.  Of course, to attempt suicide….

What if, though, you were a woman, daughter of a local vicar, marrying ‘above’ your station into the expectations of the ‘greater public school’ men – wealthy, elite?

And that’s before the play now begins, after ten months in love with a dashing RAF wartime fighter pilot – a famous but by now insecure past-his-prime test pilot.  Where did Lady Hester Collyer meet Freddie?  At the elite golf club, Sunningdale, of course.

Matt Day and Marta Dusseldorp
as Sir William Collyer and Lady Hester

Marta Dusseldorp and Fayssal Bazzi
as Hester and Freddie

Does this sound like your cup-of-tea, in modern Australia?  You’ll be surprised.  Just as director Paige Rattray describes:  “When I went to see the 2015 production at the National Theatre in London, I was aware of Rattigan’s reputation as an observer of the British middle-class, a society playwright, but was not prepared to meet one of the most complex, nuanced and thoroughly human female characters in the history of Western theatre.”

Scene changing by actors in character - the 'fourth wall' is broken
L-R: Contessa Treffone, Vanessa Downing, Brandon McClelland, Marta Dusseldorp and stage crew
Ann Welch (neighbour), Mrs Elton (landlady), Philip Welch (neighbour), Hester Collyer 
To then find Marta Dusseldorp to play this role was an inspired choice.  In this clever, also surprising set design, what would have been in the 1950s a conventional English sitting-room ‘fourth-wall’ scene turns into an exciting modern play reflecting on the past attitudes to mental health, sexual identity – and thus the position of women as independent people in control of their lives – attitudes still boiling away beneath our attempts today to change that dark world into a kinder place.

It worries me that the image in Rattigan’s play of the ‘deep blue sea’, which is attractive and offers the possibility of hope, is nowadays seen as ‘the black dog’, seemingly a vicious threat to escape from.  But Marta’s characterisation of Rattigan’s Lady Hester Collyer catches us out.  She achieves wonderfully the intention that director Paige has for this production:

In moving Hester through her despair, through her reliance on other people to a place where she can exist for and with herself”…we have a “model for a new way to look at life, and a new way to survive it.”

If you had thought, as I had, that Terence Rattigan had less to offer than, say, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams or others of his era,  Sydney Theatre Company proves us to be mistaken. 

Not to be missed.