The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
The Deep Blue Sea
Almeida Theatre and BBC 1994, YouTube Summer 2020
My watching the
National Theatre's current online broadcast of Terence Rattigan's The
Deep Blue Sea inspired YouTube's algorithms to dig up and recommend
this 1994 version, adapted by the BBC from an Almeida Theatre
Worth seeing on its own
merits, it serves as an
interesting counterpart to the newer one, often strong where the
other is weak and weak where it is strong.
Rattigan's story is of a
respectable middle-class woman who leaves her husband for a younger
man, only to discover that neither man has the emotional depth to be
able to love as fully and passionately as she.
The subject, as in
many of Rattigan's plays, is the British cultural fear of emotion,
the stiff-upper-lip that makes a whole people either afraid of real
emotion, incapable of it, or overwhelmed when it hits them.
Wilton is perhaps best known today from TV's Downton Abbey, where she
played the charity-minded older woman constantly sparring with Maggie
Smith, their weapons of choice being the arched eyebrow and genteel
put-down. She has primarily been a stage actress, with a long career
with the National Theatre and the West End.
What Wilton brings to
every role she plays is the impression of a quick mind, a deep
intelligence and a bemused ironic distance. She invests her character
here with those signature qualities, and therein lie both her success
and failure in the role.
It is clear from the
first scenes that this
woman is superior in character and intelligence to anyone around her.
But it is also inescapable that she is stronger, and you will never
really believe in her suicide attempt or that she is helplessly
overcome by her passions.
Colin Firth, looking
uncomfortable in a
silly moustache, plays the lover as an amiable bloke who is just
totally out of his emotional depth. Firth is more successful than
most in communicating the man's awareness of his own limitations, and
his chagrin and pain at facing the fact of his inadequacy.
allows the husband considerably less self-discovery, making the man
hide behind the mask of moral outrage through most of the play. Only
in his final scene does he allow a fleeting vision of the man's own
failure to cross his face.
Director Karel Reisz keeps things flowing through the 90 minute broadcast, and the BBC camera placement and editing are expert. But the YouTube upload looks like a copy of a copy of a videotape, with too frequent lapses of picture and sound.
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