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The Deep Blue Sea at the National theatre

First Published 9 June 2016, Last Updated 30 May 2018

What’s it all about?

Set in post-war London, the play tells the story of Hester, married to serious judge Bill, who falls in love and runs away with pilot Freddie. Too late she realises that she loves far more than she is loved in return, and the play begins when she is discovered following a botched suicide attempt. Over the course of the day she must reckon with her relationships with both men, and face the prospect of life beyond earth-shattering heartbreak.

Who’s in it?

Helen McCrory (Medea, Peaky Blinders) returns to the National, giving a staggering performance as Hester. McCrory demonstrates every nuance of Hester’s feelings with perfect ease, transitioning seamlessly from the image of a calm, collected 1950s housewife to a desperate, frightened woman, filled with self-hatred at her own emotions.

Tall and imposing, Bill (played with gravitas by Peter Sullivan) is as solid as a brick wall and just about as comforting, whereas Tom Burke’s Freddie is loud, brash and oozing with charm. They are polar opposites, but both share an intimate connection with Hester that will be tested to the limit over the course of the day,

What should I look out for?

Tom Scutt’s exquisitely detailed set, offering a snapshot of 1950s domesticity, with the lives and movements of Hester’s neighbours visible through semi-transparent walls. Keep your eyes peeled for subtle changes in light and sound that radically affect the mood on stage, from the sound of the rain to the idle blowing of a curtain in the breeze.

The incredible rhythm of Rattigan’s text, which, under sensitive direction from Carrie Cracknell, moves suddenly from staccato bursts of panicked conversation to elegiac moments of silence, keeping the audience constantly on edge.

Nick Fletcher’s touchingly understated portrayal of disgraced doctor Miller, whose sensitive (and when needed, humorously direct) insight informs the actions of those around him. Fletcher maintains a persona of trustworthy authority, as well as a barely-hidden air of unspeakable pain, in a performance that very nearly steals the show.

In a nutshell?

Helen McCrory dazzles in Rattigan’s heart-wrenching tale of the destructive power of  love.

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Will I like it?

I defy anyone not to be hooked by McCrory’s masterful performance; surrounded by people who scorn and devalue her capacity for love, just watch her reactions as each male character tells her how to feel. She sees right through them all, her words dripping with sarcasm as she maintains her impeccable image of self-control, while seeking to escape from her crushing inner turmoil.

Moving and thought provoking, this is a play about loving with your eyes open, and learning how to keep on living in spite of pain. With a sumptuous set and sterling performances all round, this is one show not to miss this summer.

The Deep Blue Sea runs at the Lyttleton Theatre, National Theatre until 17 August. You can book tickets through the official website. 

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