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Theatre Review: The Deep Blue Sea
DAVID ZAMPATTI, The West Australian November 22, 2010, 12:30 pm


The Deep Blue Sea
By Terence Rattigan
Onward Production
Playhouse Theatre


In the theatre of the grey, transitional world of early 1950s England, an established group of playwrights and an emerging cadre of vivid young actors sought to keep and find their audience.

Foremost among these writers was the prolific, systematic Terence Rattigan, while among the new breed of actor was the powerhouse Welshman, Richard Burton. It's a happy coincidence that these two very different figures are the genesis of this fine production of Rattigan's 1952 drama.

The play opens where many end: worried by the odour of gas coming from a room in a frayed old boarding house, the landlady, Mrs Elton (Julia Moody), and a tenant, Philip Welch (Will O'Mahony), burst in to find Hester Page (Alison van Reeken) unconscious in front of the heater.

An empty pill bottle lies on the table. A note sits on the mantelpiece. Her husband, Freddie (Tom O'Sullivan), is away, golfing with his RAF pal, Jackie (James Helm).
Another tenant, Dr Miller, is summoned, and he revives Hester. Welch's young wife, Ann (Amanda Woodhams) arrives, and they try to work out whom to call.
Then Mrs Elton drops her bombshell: they should contact her real husband, the eminent judge, Sir William Collyer (Michael Loney). Sir William arrives, Freddie returns and Hester's protestation that what had occurred was just an accident falls apart.

And then the play takes off, courtesy of Michael McCall's sure-footed direction and van Reeken's astounding performance.

Van Reeken nails both Hester's fragile insouciance that masks her rising hysteria and her sheer physical passion.There's one moment when her acting is of transfixing quality.
She's supported admirably by Loney, whose stock-in-trade impishness is happily appropriate in the role of the deserted husband, and Greg McNeill, who handles the tricky role of Dr Miller with aplomb.

Even more difficult is the role of Freddie, who has to be attractive enough to besot an accomplished, mature woman and creepy enough not to deserve her. O'Sullivan is handsome enough to deliver the first and makes a good fist of the second.

The rest of the cast have good moments that they deliver well. The show is accurately designed (Lawrie Cullen-Tait) and lit (Andrew Portwine), and Hester is beautifully dressed by Steve Nolan.

Sally Burton has already earned our thanks for giving Perth a well-resourced independent production house, drawing on royalties from the films of her late husband, Richard Burton, and The Deep Blue Sea will win her more.