ACT Deep Blue Sea Sian Tutill
Sian takes a bow at the end of the show with applause from the cast for her performance as Hester

The Deep Blue Sea. Axbridge Town Hall

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Hester Collyer has to choose between her stuffy wealthy husband Sir William Collyer or her washed up drunken charmer and one time fighter pilot and lover Freddie Page for whom the world stopped at the height of the Battle of Britain.

Terence Rattigan’s marital crisis drama set in 1950s London is a surprise. Not the emotionally constipationally afflicted story of stiff upper lip middle class suburbia but the eternal battles of uneven relationships in which the protagonist in the partnerships desires change.

As protagonists go Sian Tutill as the manipulative, confused and depressed Hester gave one of the best demonstrations of character acting you will see outside of professional theatre. Totally convincing from the moment she attempts to gas herself to the climactic final scene as she wrestles with the trauma that her love affair with Freddie may be over. Tutill convinces as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown – using her body, face, voice and hands – she gives a magnetic performance. Anguished and agonised with Rattigan’s articulate dialogue this is a very 21st century study of how we feel in a relationship that’s going nowhere and not the period piece it can be.

Chris Jarman as Freddie and Tony Wilson as his chummy ex RAF mate Jackie Jackson appeared to have missed the privations of 1950s’ rationing and perhaps were little too senior in years to have been so recently discharged from flying Spitfires but as voices they sounded right. In fact this would work well as a radio play as there is little action apart from the odd door slamming and clinking of whisky glasses. Despite Tutill’s dominating stage persona Jarman held his own in their powerful one to one scenes. His final pitiful emotional self flagellatorypronouncement that: “It’s written in great bloody letters of fire over our heads – ‘you and I are death to each other’” thus potentially spelling the end of the affair was delivered with feeling and to many will chime as an accurate take on relationships that have gone past their sell by date.

Maggie Stanley made a robust and believable landlady as Mrs Elton and Phil Saunders gave a strong performance as Hester’s dry old stick of a legal bigwig husband. Then there was the very odd couple in Ann and Philip Welch played by Nigel Newton (great suit) and Diane Lukins (great hair). Well, odd in the sense as to who would want these two studies in embarrassment as neighbours? Both were wonderfully awkward and suitably stiff from the moment they offered to help out at a suicide attempt and went on to say all the wrong things – bless them. As symbols of how out of touch 1950s Britain was to the issue of mental health, marital problems or expressing true feelings they couldn’t have been better.

And praise too for David Parkin as the helpful Mr Miller, bookie and sometime unofficial doctor whose Germanic accent didn’t slip and whose charm began to melt the brittle exterior of the slightly unhinged Hester. Here was a character of his time – could he have been a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany trying to make a living as a Bookie’s clerk? A nice touch from Rattigan – today he’d be more likely be a Kurd or a Syrian. He’s there as the antidote to a society obsessed with social norms – ahead of his time.

These inflections, minor characters and themes come from a playwright who in his own time could not fully be himself as he was gay. The Deep Blue Sea written in 1952 has been interpreted as a coded drama of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ but in truth it feels more like a story about grown-ups for grown-ups without gimmicks or twists of plot. A play anyone in a relationship will immediately understand.

Directed by John Bailey and produced by John Kendall this Axbridge Community Theatre version of Rattigan’s play is an excellent piece of work by the director and his cast marking a further development of the company.

It’s a long and emotional without any theatrics, and yet as the arguments unravel we see more than a glimpse of our own relationships articulated by a cast keen to highlight the dialogue that hasn’t aged and continues to give.

The play runs to Saturday, November 25th, 2017, at Axbridge Town Hall.

Rupert Bridgwater