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.
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
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.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
You might also be interested in …
Caryl Churchill’s stunning play Escaped Alone presents an ordinary scene of four women of a certain age chatting over tea in a suburban garden. Of course not all is as tranquil as it appears, for each of the women harbour dark personal anxieties, and from time to time one of them steps away from the garden to share news with us about apocalyptic disasters that have struck the world. Produced at the Royal Court in 2016, Churchill’s vision of a world overcome by collective disaster has proved to be extraordinarily prophetic. Joining me to explore our first Churchill play is Professor Elaine Aston, author of a monograph on Caryl Churchill as well as the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Caryl Churchill.
Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey caused a sensation when it appeared at the Theatre Royal Stratford in 1958 because of its frank portrayal of a working-class, single mother and daughter, as well as its bold representations of a mixed-race relationship and a young homosexual as a central character. Delaney sent her first play to the renowned director Joan Littlewood who helped develop it into an historic production which went on to the West End and Broadway. Professor Nadine Holdsworth helps us to explore the enduring power and relevance of the play.
Girl from the North Country is an extraordinary collaboration between the playwright Conor McPherson and the musician and song writer Bob Dylan. The result is a magical work where McPherson’s portrait of families struggling to survive in Depression America is transfigured into an uplifting theatrical experience by the ravishing period arrangements of Dylan’s songs.
The play opened at the Old Vic Theatre in London in 2017 to a rapturous response and reviews, and was followed by runs in the West End and New York.
This is a very special episode, first because I am privileged to talk with none other than the play’s author Conor McPherson, and secondly because we have also been given kind permission to include several extracts from the original cast recording of the music from the first London production.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …