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Helen McCrory reveals recent panic attack during National Theatre performance

Helen McCrory in The Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith Helen McCrory in The Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
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Helen McCrory has revealed she had a panic attack on stage while starring in the National Theatre’s current production of The Deep Blue Sea.

The actor has explained how she once became so overwhelmed performing one of the Terence Rattigan play’s key passages that she became short of breath.

McCrory was giving a talk at the National Theatre about The Deep Blue sea when she was asked whether particular lines ever caught her off-guard.

She told the audience: “Yes, definitely. We were doing the scene when she says, ‘Lust isn’t the whole of life, but Freddie is, you see, for me. The whole of life. And death. So, put a label on that, if you can.’

“I did it and I had a panic attack. Because I just hit something. But as an actress you just think: ‘Go back, quickly, quickly, because you’ve got to be in control of this’. I could just feel myself losing my breath.”

Earlier in the talk, McCrory revealed that when she was younger she used to be sick before most of her performances, and advised young actors not to over-exert themselves onstage.

Explaining how one of the most important lessons she had learned as an actor was to “leave yourself alone”, she said: “When I came out of Drama Centre London – which was a great training – I would work myself up to the point of hysteria before walking on stage.”

She continued: “I rarely went on stage without being sick. I mean, I didn’t work myself up, I was [already] there, that’s how I performed. And because I was 21 that how I enjoyed watching people perform – like they really meant it, and it really cost them something. And as I get older I don’t find that kind of performance particularly interesting.”

McCrory was speaking to critic Libby Purves on the Lyttelton stage as part of the National Theatre’s Platform series.

The Deep Blue Sea runs at the theatre until September 21.

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