REVIEW Deep Blue Sea at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester: 'You cannot have too much of a good thing'

Deep Blue Sea is at The Minerva Theatre in Chichester until July 27
Deep Blue Sea is at The Minerva Theatre in Chichester until July 27
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Veteran CFT patrons reading the headline might feel a sense of deja-vu, and for good reason: it is the second time in eight years that this play has been performed in Chichester.

But with so many Rattigan plays to choose from, why this one again?
There are two compelling reasons, both of which help explain the production’s success: the intimacy of the space and the talent.
Set in the sitting room of a pokey North West London flat, the play chronicles the life, love and loss of Hester Collyer over the course of a day following a botched suicide attempt, having left her husband for an RAF pilot a year prior.

Last time it was performed at the larger Festival Theatre to mark Rattigan’s centenary, whereas the smaller setting of the Minerva intensified the claustrophobic isolation of Hester’s life.

The expression ‘walls have ears’ is particularly relevant to how the plot progresses; in this confined space the audience embodies it, spying on intensely private moments that happen behind closed doors but occasionally burst through into the public realm.

The second is the casting of Nancy Carroll as Hester, regarded as one of the finest roles for women in 20th Century theatre.

The actor won an Olivier award for her performance in another Rattigan play, and she waited to take on the role until she was the right age.

Well, the wait was worth it. Beneath the polite, calm mask Hester wears in company is a raging whirlpool of desperation, despair, hope and lust that Carroll triumphed in harnessing. In the hands of a lesser performer, it could easily descend into melodrama; in hers it was a slow dive into the deep.

While the love triangle between Hester, her  RAF lover Freddie Page and her estranged husband, judge Sir William Collyer, was gripping to watch, the most unexpectedly potent relationship was with her neighbour Mr Miller.

Matthew Cottle captured the stoicism of the struck-off doctor turned guardian angel, which was the perfect foil to Carroll’s harrowing performance as Hester finally implodes.

This revival proves you cannot have too much of a good thing.

Until July 27.