Deep Blue Sea, National Theatre, review: ‘Helen McCrory flexes her talents again’

helen mccrory in Deep Blue Sea

helen mccrory in Deep Blue Sea - Credit: Archant

Tufnell Park actress Helen McCrory has been quietly building a reputation as one of our finest actresses.

Following her triumphant Medea at The National, Carrie Cracknell’s sensitively-wrought revival of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 drama offers another chance to flex McCrory’s remarkable talents.

It opens with Hester Collyer stretched out before the gas fire of a dingy Ladbroke Grove boarding house after a failed suicide bid.

Having fled her marriage to a judge to elope with a wayward ex Spitfire pilot, she’s discovered Freddie drinks, plays golf, forgets her birthday and is incapable of returning the full force of her love. Tension builds as you just know she will try again.

For Hester is not only trapped by societal mores that nix suicide, homosexuality, living in sin, and female self determination but by the intensity of her feelings the men in her life cannot match.

McCrory offers a brilliantly unshowy study of wry insight, crumpled despair and frantic desperation, but through the house’s gauzy grey walls Cracknell sets her in context; the busybody landlady who likes her least moral tenants, the judgemntal straight young couple, the struck off doctor who crucially persuades Hester to live.

Peter Sullivan cuts such a dash as her loving but repressed establishment husband you almost yearn for a reunion.

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And though there’s insufficient sexual chemistry between Hester and Tom Burke’s Freddie, he suggests just enough self-awareness of his caddish behaviour to imply the emotional cost for war heroes whose “life stopped in 1940”.

Like Tennessee Williams, Rattigan’s good on the ways men and women love differently and on the complexity of women’s inner lives.

But Rattigan’s heroine isn’t doomed and the sight of a defiantly miserable McCrory attacking a fried egg sandwich at the end will have you punching the air.

Deep Blue Sea is at the National Theatre

Rating: 4/5 stars