Emily Elderfield enjoys the Mermaids’ latest Barron production, Terrence Rattigan’s acclaimed play The Deep Blue Sea
Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea is about many things – suicide, alcoholism, broken marriages – but at its core, it’s about how we love, with all our human flaws and misjudgements. Director Benjamin Osugo and his cast navigated this tricky and nuanced play admirably, though it did suffer from some one-noted performances.
Annabel Steele as the weary, introspective Hester magnetised the stage with a slow, aching energy. The amount of emotion she packed into a simple utterance of Bill’s name (her previous husband) was testament to her natural skill at character work, and I never doubted that here was a woman who had been beaten down one too many times by the pain of life and love. In contrast, Bailey Fear as the hapless, hopeless Freddie Page took a little longer to find his footing; his portrayal erred too much on the side of jovial, young-hearted foolishness, meaning the full impact of Freddie and Hester’s separation was lost. I believed in Hester’s heartbreak, but I struggled to empathise with Freddie’s own demons.
Eilidh Mackinnon gave a stand-out performance among the secondary characters; she commanded the stage as the fussy, gossipy Mrs Elton, and her knack for facial expression and comic timing provided welcome relief to the raw, profound commentaries on love being made amongst the main characters. While some other minor cast members gave disappointingly one-noted performances, I left wishing that Gareth Owen as the sombre Mr Miller had been given more stage time. He, like Steele, knew how to utilise silence, and their final scene together offered a beautiful flicker of hope in an otherwise bleak conclusion.
Comedy is a tough nut to crack in a play as heavy as this, but the cast generally succeeded in breaking up the despondent tone with some light moments that stopped the play from sinking into itself. Though the pacing in the first third of the play was damaged by an abundance of hurried, overloud lines, the production found its backbone as the cracks in Freddie and Hester’s relationship were revealed. By the end, I found myself looking for answers to the play’s ultimate question: how do we love, and what do we do when that isn’t enough?
Osugo mentions in his Director’s Note that this project has been a long time in the making, and it’s clear that this time has allowed him to make use of even the most minor details of his production. Lethargic, sorrowful music and a subtle yet ever-present blue glow of a lamp in the Pages’ flat helped to round out the melancholic tone of the play. He had a keen eye for the layers of Rattigan’s script, and his next project will undoubtedly be one not to miss.
STARS: * * * *