On the back wall of the shabby Ladbroke Grove flat that Hester Collyer (Nancy Carroll) shares with Freddie Page (Hadley Fraser) hang a collection of paintings. Rural landscapes and seaside vistas, they’re competent, neatly executed compositions. Yet, as Mr Miller (Matthew Cottle) points out late in the play, they also lack that extra, unnameable spark capable of causing a real emotional reaction in the viewer.
The same could be said for Paul Foster’s revival of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea. Carroll is compelling as Rattigan’s anguished protagonist. Brittle, but also sharp-edged, she cradles the absent Page’s silk scarf and inhales its scent with unapologetic desperation. She’s also amusingly sly and subtly sarcastic when facing down her busybody neighbours, including the joyfully scandalised Ann Welch (a great Helena Wilson).
But the central relationship between Hester and Freddie – played by Fraser as a very upper class drunkard, like an escapee from Laura Wade’s Posh – never fully convinces. Similarly, Gerald Kyd’s Sir William Collyer is too slick and dashing to really be persuasive in the role of an impotent cuckold. There’s an air of the Victorian villain about him. Too often, the emotional heft comes from shouting and hysteria.
If the pathos that permeates Rattigan’s play is present anywhere, it’s in the production’s design. A line of rubble and bomb damage surrounds Peter McKintosh’s one-room set, which is illuminated by the straight beams of wartime search lights by Natasha Chivers. It’s painterly, disquieting and affecting.