The Deep Blue Sea

HANNAH QUINN found this production absofuckinglutely… difficult to get excited about.

ADC Drama harry michell

ADC, 7.45pm, 29th January – 2nd February
Tue & Wed £8/£6, Thu-Sat £10/£8

Directed by Harry Michell

Some productions invite hyperbolic reviews. Others don’t. I keep trying to write sensational things about The Deep Blue Sea, and.. I just can’t. I start a sentence with ‘it was very…’ and then I stop: it wasn’t ‘very’ anything.

No, OK, here’s one: Harry Michell gives us a very competent production of Rattigan’s tale of self-loathing, hope, and unrequited love. It is precise and professional. Rob Eager’s set, a single room throughout the play, is detailed. The acting is solid. Notice the lack of superlatives in those sentences.

The thing is, there’s nothing exactly wrong with this production. Well, there’s the occasional fluffed line, and some of the acting at the beginning is a bit shaky, but it is, after all, a first night. It’s a well-done production, and yet I’m struggling to get excited about it.

Perhaps it’s because, despite the script and the staging and the acting, there’s almost no emotional undercurrent. Moments that should be loaded are empty. Not even very empty. If only! If only I could write something like ‘this was an EXTREMELY BAD PRODUCTION’.

But I can’t. There’s no place for words like “extremely” in this review. So, yes, there are a few waves, a few tugs of emotion, but ultimately it’s more of a paddling pool than deep blue sea: nice, but shallow, and you never get anywhere.

Of the cast, it is Mary Galloway who deserves the few real superlatives on offer. Her portrayal of suicidal heroine Hester Collyer is a triumph. Behind the nervous smile you get a sense of Hester’s vulnerability, and her desperate need for love. Some of the best scenes were those with Galloway silent and alone on the stage.

Perhaps tellingly however, the most memorable thing about the play was the scene transitions. The sound of water builds to a crescendo and then suddenly stops, thrusting us into an almost violent silence as the lights come on. I’d have liked to see more of that tension in the play itself.

Theo Hughes-Morgan and Simon Alcock were similarly good as Hester’s drunken ex-test-pilot lover and abandoned husband respectively, though both took a little longer to warm up to their roles. Of the supporting cast, Archie Preston particularly stood out, with perfect comic timing as the enigmatic Mr. Miller.

Yes, the delicate restraint in Rattigan’s script is part of its brilliance, but you can be too understated, and I didn’t feel truly invested in the lives of any of these characters. Ultimately, Michell’s Deep Blue Sea is slick and at times impressive, but it lacks that spark that forces you to use words like ‘very’ and ‘extremely’ and ‘absofuckinglutely’.

For me, the best shows are passionate and courageous. They take risks and leave you thrilled at the sheer possibilities of theatre. They leave you throwing superlatives around like an Olympic shotputter on acid. Basically, they make you care.

You can have high production values, technical brilliance, competent actors – Michell’s production has all these in spades – but if you don’t come out of the theatre feeling like you need to invent a new word to get across just how <insert adjective> the show was, then what, really, is the point?