Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Touching bottom with Terence Rattigan

It’s only June, but if we get a better performance this year than Hattie Ladbury’s in

It’s only June, but if we get a better performance this year than Hattie Ladbury’s in The Deep Blue Sea then I’ll eat my running shoes — it’s a pretty safe bet, there almost certainly won’t be.

The actress gives us such power and yearning sensitivity that we are completely wrung out by the end.

Her role as the naive wife in a loveless marriage finding herself being sexually awakened by another man is beautifully written by Terence Rattigan.

But it takes someone of real talent to make it flesh and that Ms Ladbury has it in cartloads. The Deep Blue Sea was written in 1951, another era in morality and respectability. It’s doubtful whether such a series of conflicts and unrequited passions could now exist because things have changed so much — at least in western culture.

But in that austere postwar period an innocent vicar’s daughter like Ladbury’s Hester Collyer could easily have made a match with a successful but very stuffy older lawyer. It was unrewarding and passionless and the rules of the time made it much harder to admit that and to stop it.

So when the dashing and diligent ex-Spitfire pilot Freddie Page comes along she falls for him in a big way. He’s everything her stuffy husband Sir William isn’t. He’s younger, handsome, brave and risk-taking.

But this isn’t love either, it’s obsession for both of them and they start to burn each other up.

Adam Jackson-Smith gives a fine sympathetic performance as the pilot who stopped living in 1940 after the Battle of Britain — like so many RAF men who lived heightened existences during the war.

But the heart of this play is the way Hester deals with the consuming fire of her passion — first through attempted suicide, then through the agonising process of self-realisation.

Ladbury is charismatic, magnetic, heartbreaking, tear-inducing and occasionally joyous. She captures that Fifties veneer of calm while letting her emotions bubble up underneath it.

Really not to be missed

Until July 4.

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