008 – The Deep Blue Sea, by Terence Rattigan
“When you’re between any kind of devil and the deep blue sea, the deep blue sea sometimes looks very inviting.”
So Hester Collyer describes the despair that led her to attempt suicide at the opening of Terence Rattigan’s masterpiece The Deep Blue Sea.
When it was first performed in 1952, Rattigan was the most successful playwright in Britain, and his latest play was met with critical aclaim. However later in the 1950s and 1960s with the rise of playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and the angry young men, including John Osborne, and Arnold Wesker, Rattigan’s plays were all but written off as dated melodrama. It was a modern production of The Deep Blue Sea at the Almeida theatre in London in 1993, with Penelope Wilton in the lead role, that brought a new lens through which to view Rattigan, and the play was greeted as a “modern classic”.
Rattigan’s portrait of a doomed love affair explores the force of sexual love and its power to destroy relationships and subvert social convention, and in the figure of Hester Collyer gives us one of the most emotionally charged female characters in drama.
To coincide with the National Theatre at Home broadcast of their 2016 production of the play starring Helen McCrory in the lead role, we delve deep into what is arguably Rattigan’s most personal and most devastatingly powerful play in conversation with Dan Rebellato.
Dan was our very first guest on The Play Podcast, when we talked together about Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House back in episode 1.
In addition to being a playwright, journalist and Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London, Dan is also the series editor of Terence Rattigan’s plays for the specialist drama publisher Nick Hern, in which capacity he has written introductions to Rattigan and all of his texts, as well as published and spoken about his work in many other contexts.
At last count Dan has written 17 stage plays, numerous radio plays, and published several books on contemporary British theatre. During the recent coronavirus lockdown Dan has taken the opportunity to create a series of YouTube interviews with a stellar line-up of playwrights under the heading Playwrights in Lockdown. The series is a wonderful repository of knowledge and insight into the methods and work of many of the leading writers of our time.
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We have footnotes for this episode …
More observations on The Deep Blue Sea following our conversation with Dan, including playing Hester with “no clothes on”, trading Shakespearean quotes on Love and Lust, the unimportance of “the physical side, objectively speaking”, and the whereabouts of a shilling coin.
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