“Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” is a place no one ever wants to be, but most of us find ourselves there at some point in our lifetime. This play was about one day in the life of Hester Collyer (Annabel Steele), beginning with her attempted suicide and ending with her choosing to live to see another day. Hester must ride the line between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis, which in a way reflects the line that this production walked so expertly.
The Deep Blue Sea is a play that lends itself very easily to melodrama, there are many long scenes where not much happens and characters do a lot of talking, saying #deep things at one another. On the other hand, if you underdo the show, the emotional tension could be undermined. This production sailed comfortably through the middle of both of these extremes, maintaining a simmering tension throughout the production while never dipping into melodrama. The production pitched the tone perfectly and made the play a wonderful slow burn that captivated me like a good book in front of a warm fire.
The performances were very strong across the board. Of particular note was Steele, who turned in the performance of her career so far with a touching and sensitive performance of a woman suffering from depression. Ed Polsue is charming as Hester’s estranged husband William, giving a performance that is equal parts touching and detached. Gareth Owen also deserves a mention, giving a masterful performance as a disgraced but well-meaning doctor who visits Hester throughout the day. While on the whole very strong, all of the actors’ articulation dropped at some point in the show and it did take a little while for a couple of the actors to warm up.
There is, however, a big flaw that holds this show back from achieving the elusive honour of a five-star rating. The turning point in the first act comes when Hester’s “husband” Freddie Page (played in boyish fashion by rising star Bailey Fear) decides to leave her after discovering her suicide note from the night before. Hester then spends the remainder of the play doing all she can to persuade him to come back. The problem was that I couldn’t understand why she was so desperate to continue a relationship that was making her so miserable. I understand that love is complex and often irrational but there was no clear chemistry or passion between Hester and Freddie, not even a hint that there was any real affection. This is especially relevant because there was a palpable and genuinely loving bond between Hester and William, leaving the audience to wonder why she left him for an alcoholic who she compares to “the devil” in the first place. Some people I’ve spoken to about the play have argued that this is the whole point of Freddie and Hester’s relationship, which is all very well and good but I need to at least believe that there was a spark between them at some point or the relationship just doesn’t work.
All in all, this was a marvelous production. Grace Cowie’s set and lighting were (as usual) flawless and fit perfectly. The show took it’s time and told an engaging and thought-provoking story. I was taken on a gentle, thoughtful and wonderful journey between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and I am all the richer for it.