The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan, adapted by David Timson

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BBC Radio 3, 1 February 2009
To understand The Deep Blue Sea's significance one must realise that it is one of Terence Rattigan's most personal plays. A tragedy of unrequited love set in the early 1950s, it focuses on Hester Collyer (Carolyn Pickles), a deeply unhappy married woman who leaves her husband Sir William (Anton Lesser) and sets up home with Freddie Page (Tom Mison) in search of a better life. Alas this proves a pipedream - although Freddie cares for her, he possesses neither the mental capacity nor the moral strength to understand her. He can only perceive her through his limited social prism dominated by drinking and regular association with his 'chaps' - ex-RAF types with little to do but bemoan the fact that they no longer have any use in post-war Britain. Hester is a lot like Rattigan himself, wanting to be loved yet always finding unsuitable partners, often from an unsuitable social background. In the restrictive theatrical climate of the early 1950s - when all new plays had to be vetted by the Lord Chamberlain before performance - Rattigan could not write about homosexual love, so he created a heterosexual drama instead.
In truth The Deep Blue Sea is a period-piece - a three-act drama set in a seedy west London boarding house filled with a gallery of eccentrics that distract our attention from the central conflict. There is the kindly but inquisitive landlady Mrs. Elton (Auriol Smith) complaining periodically about her husband's ailments yet keeping her ear to the ground in search of salacious gossip. The Welches, a young married couple (Joseph Kloska, Joannah Tinsey) live in the room above Hester, and try to help her out after her abortive suicide attempt. There is also the mysterious Dr. Miller (Hugh Ross), who has been struck off the medical register for some alleged impropriety and now ekes out a living as a bookmaker's clerk. He gives Hester the courage to pick up the threads of her life and go it alone with the advice "to judge you must feel as you feel." Even if she has been hurt, she acquires sufficient self-respect to stand up and face the world.
The advice Miller offers is pretty trite, but at least it helps Hester to undergo a change of character. As portrayed by Pickles, she began the play as someone always close to tears - particularly when Freddie appeared so ignorant of her feelings. Alternatively she assumed the role of an over-protective mother fussing around her little boy, asking Freddie whether he had eaten enough, or packed his suitcase properly. Neither of these roles suited her; nor did she want to return to the life of stultifying boredom as a judge's wife. Sir William did his utmost to persuade her, but by the end of the scene he was pleading with her like a little boy: despite the social gulf separating them, he resembled Freddie at this point. By contrast Hester acquired moral strength; she might not have found what she wanted, but she understood very well what she didn't want.
Although trying to commit suicide once again, Hester did it rather half-heartedly; David Timson's production suggested that she wanted someone like Miller to discover her (by having her moving towards the door and slamming it loudly in the hope of attracting the other residents' attention). All Miller needed to do was to reaffirm what she knew already - that no one could help her except herself. The final scene - where Freddie returns to collect his belongings - was acted calmly, almost as if Hester were wishing him a good day at the office. Freddie seemed surprised, but true to form he could not pluck up sufficient courage to question her. The two parted with the briefest of kisses leaving Hester to tidy up her room and light the gas-fire. This low-key ending suggested that she had at last acquired the strength to live, even if she might not find another suitable partner.