Scacchi delivers a powerful performance

The Deep Blue Sea: Terrence Rattigan, Theatre Royal, Norwich until SaturdayTerrence Rattigan's masterpiece is such powerful emotional stuff that it storms down the half century and more since it was written.

Ivan Howlett

The Deep Blue Sea: Terrence Rattigan, Theatre Royal, Norwich, February 23

Terrence Rattigan's masterpiece is such powerful emotional stuff that it storms down the half century and more since it was written. This revival, directed by Edward Hall, has passion, pursues the play's searching examination of one of the most difficult of human dilemmas and has plenty of style to commend it.

Just before the war the critics were asking if this hugely successful commercial playwright could come up with a serious play .How ironic that a couple of years after this great English play was put on in 1952 the enthusiasts for the Angry Young Man Dramas - led by the critics - rather threw the baby out with the bathwater and put Rattigan on the Yesterday's Man pile. Those who really knew, Harold Pinter for instance, always maintained that Rattigan was up there with the best.

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The dilemma is about the desperately painful illogicality of love and the hopeless emotional tangles it can produce. Rattigan had been there himself, and writes perceptively about his own pain.

Greta Scacchi plays Hester Collyer, an Ibsenesque woman, on the edge of self- destruction throughout. Some months ago Hester had left her High Court Judge husband (Simon Williams as an elegant, but hopelessly diffident Sir William), a kindly, secure man she has never loved . She'd left him for a young ex-RAF fighter pilot, Freddie Page (played by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart), whom she loves passionately and physically. He, however, drinking heavily and lost without the war, has cooled, is unable to love her in return and would rather be off playing golf with his mates..

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They live hand to mouth in a dreary flat where she tries to commit suicide by gassing herself, which is where the play begins. The next day we go through it all, Sir William returns wanting to take her back. Freddie finds the suicide note and decides to leave for a pilot's job we all know he won't manage. For Hester it's a choice of life or death and she's helped by straight speaking struck-off doctor (thoughfully played by a wry Tim McMullan), another social outcast, with whom she forms a bond.

Greta Scacchi gives an outstanding performance, taking the role to a remarkable unrepressed pitch. Both Simon Williams, as the model of the closed upper middle class male and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart's Freddie, repellently self-pitying by the end, in the part that originally made Kenneth More a star, are fine foils.

Ivan Howlett

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