By Terence Rattigan
When we say "post war" now, it really feels as if we have to define which war we're talking about. For Terence Rattigan, son of a diplomat, an Oxford-educated history graduate and ex-RAF, there was no such ambiguity in 1952. Everybody in the western world, and some beyond, knew what it was like to be "post war".
So The Deep Blue Sea is very definitely a post Second World War play - post Battle of Britain, post the revealing to the British public of concentration camp horrors, post the judgements of the Nuremberg Trials, and, even if in the very near past, post British Empire in an austere and much depleted United Kingdom.
Helen McCrory is Hester Collyer, who has run away from her High Court judge husband, Sir William (Peter Sullivan). Having fled from Eaton Square, she now lives an exile from society yet a near neighbour, apparently unknown to him, of her estranged husband, as "Mrs Page", in a Ladbroke Grove bedsit with her ex RAF lover. Freddie (Tom Burke) has struggled to make a living as a post-war test pilot, both in Canada and the UK, although he still manages somehow to pay for his rounds of drink and golf weekends at Sunningdale.
The play starts with Hester's botched attempt at suicide from an overdose and gas asphyxiation - botched because the shilling in the gas meter runs out. She's found the following morning by fellow tenants, Home Office employees Philip Welch (Hubert Burton) and his pregnant wife Ann (Yolanda Kettle) - obviously no surname pun intended - and her solicitous gossip of a landlady Mrs Eldon (Marion Bailey), They call in bookie's clerk and German ex Prisoner of War Kurt Miller (Nick Fletcher) who appears to have more than a smattering of medical knowledge.
This is an engrossing, detailed production directed by Carrie Cracknell, if somewhat held up at times by lengthy sound effects splaying like confused radio frequencies (sound: Peter Rice). At the centre is a desperate yet clear-sighted Hester, known as Hes to her husband of which more later, at the centre of the action and all the other characters swirling around her, in their various ways keeping her at arm's length.
The bedsit, in a multi-storied set designed by Tom Scutt, filled with the shadows of adjacent tenants' rooms, feels surreally stretched out, bathed in grayish green light. (lighting: Guy Hoare). McCrory's cut glass Hester is transfixing, with a film star glow amidst her dull surroundings. She's a conquest creating a problem which Freddie (a dissolute with a survival instinct in Burke's equally fine performance) and his friend Jackie (Adetomiwa Edun) realize he cannot possibly handle..
There's little doubt that, in part, The Deep Blue Sea was inspired by the suicide of Rattigan's male lover, actor Kenny Morgan and TLT with her sporty little hatchback went in with this commonly held knowledge. But as they watched the play another uncomfortable, more than spikey parallel emerged.
Phoned up by the Home Office couple, the judge calls Hester by the shortened nicknamed "Hes". Hes becomes more and more isolated while even her own estranged husband comforts her but seems to have no inclination to bring her back to legitimate society where he can count the Solicitor General as an old friend and entertains American judges.
The Home Office couple are, like the landlady, solicitous but also rather thrilled by the knowledge they now have about a High Court Judge. Albeit the implications of the publiic coroner's court enquiry, if Hester had succeeded in her attempt, are not lost on them.
It is Miller, as much an outcast as a struck off Nazi scientist and German mprisoned by the Allies as an outcast as a homosexual, the latter a common interpretation of his role, who can talk Hester out of her aggrieved attempts at suicide. The question of judgements and justice raised by the post-war Nuremberg Trials and a lifetime's limbo of life imprisonment, as in the case of Rudolf Hess, caught between those who were hanged and those imprisoned and released spoke out loud and clear to us from this production.
This was the first production of The Deep Blue Sea we have seen with fine performances and a stunning Hester at its centre, a heroine who knows her life is descending into cheap melodrama while others can turn the page and move on. Written after the turmoil in Europe and Asia of World War II, it also, it seems to us, is a seamlessly integrated nuanced dramatic debate without attempting a glib resolution.
But many others can judge for themselves when it is broadcast in British cinemas on September 1 and internationally on October 6. In the meantime, it's a green light from TLT and her little jalopy.