The Deep Blue Sea, The Spring, Havant, REVIEW: 'Local theatre at its finest'

Ben Tanner as Freddie and Leigh Cunningham as Hester in The Deep Blue Sea by Bench Theatre at The Spring Arts Centre in Havant.
Ben Tanner as Freddie and Leigh Cunningham as Hester in The Deep Blue Sea by Bench Theatre at The Spring Arts Centre in Havant.
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Bench Theatre are back this week in what could potentially be an ill-timed production of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea.

Why ill-timed? Because the big old Chichester Festival Theatre is staging it at the same time. But this is a fine evening’s theatre; in many ways the best I’ve had in a long old time.

Director Andrew Caple has entrusted the three principal complex personalities of the play to actors who have taken them run a glorious race. This is very much a coming-of-age for Ben Tanner as Freddie. He’s always shown promise and given work of depth – but here he just doesn’t stop. From the moment tortured Freddie comes onto the stage until his last, uncomprehending look back as he leaves, Tanner is believable and wonderful. Bench stalwart David Penrose is at his very best here, too. As the stricken-off doctor Miller, all gentle German accent with a hint of mystery about him, Penrose towers. He’s never less than watchable in anything he does, but here? Sublime. And then there’s Leigh Cunningham as Hester, jilter of one lover, jiltee of another, who paints a subtle, detailed portrait of a soul in anguish. At one point in the second half a noise emerges from somewhere deep inside her that speaks of the hell of rejection such as I’ve never heard before. Cunningham is ticket-money-alone good. Among the supporting cast, Archie McKeown stands out – but the whole cast are good. Local theatre at its finest. JAMES GEORGE