Monday, November 22, 2010
The Deep Blue Sea
By Terence Rattigan
Directed by Michael McCall
Featuring Alison Van Reeken, Tom O’Sullivan, Michael Loney, Greg
McNeill, Will O’Mahony, James Helm, Julia Moody and Amanda Woodhams
November 19 - 28, 2010
Not waving, drowning
The early 50s in England have left us a pervading memory of grimness;
the certainty and glamour of its old social order shattered by 40 years
of violence, and Carnaby Street and the Beatles still an age away.
In the theatre of this grey, transitional world, an established group of
playwrights and an emerging cadre of vivid young actors both sought to
keep and find their audience.
It would be a few years yet before the latter found the writers they
were looking for; it would be decades before the artistic reputations
(and box office bankability) of the former recovered from the shock of
the new world that was coming.
Foremost among these established 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 Deep Blue Sea by Sally Burton’s Onward Production
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
Then Mrs Elton drops her bombshell: they should contact her real
husband, the eminent magistrate Sir William Collyer (Michael Loney). Sir
William arrives, Freddie returns, and Hester’s protestation that what
had occurred was just an accident falls apart when he finds the note.
It’s a good, standard set-up to the story, and it takes maybe half an hour of not especially gripping action to get there.
Alison van Reekin
And then the play takes off, courtesy of Michael McCall’s sure-footed
direction and van Reekin’s astounding performance. Her Hester burns
through the remaining acts of her downfall and redemption, and she nails
both the fragile insouciance masking her rising hysteria, and the
sheer, physical passion that has thrown down the life she led, and her
life itself. There’s a moment when Freddie leaves her embrace for the
last time and she stands perfectly still, clutching the ghost of him,
that is acting of transfixing quality.
She’s supported admirably by Michael Loney, whose stock-in-trade
impishness adds real charm to the deserted husband, and Greg McNeill,
who handles the tricky character of the shady but acute Dr Miller with
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 more than handsome enough to deliver the
first and makes a good fist of the second. The rest of the cast – and
it’s great to see eight actors in a local, professional production –
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. Stage managers don’t often make it
to reviews, but this show is a minefield of potentially deadly
entrances, exits and props, and Sue Fenty disarms them all with her
Sally Burton has already earned our thanks for giving Perth a
well-resourced independent production house, and The Deep Blue Sea will
win her more. I wonder if she has in mind producing more shows related
in some way to her husband’s career and the theatre (and cinema) in
which he thrived? If this is the case, it will be a fascinating and
unique development of more than just local interest.
An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian of 22.11.10