Preview: National Theatre Live – The Deep Blue Sea
Rattigan's tale of 1950s' passion reaches the screen without leaving the stage
Providing both an opportunity for successful productions to tour without leaving their theatre, and a potential archive of performance for future generations, event cinema is a dynamic trend. By screening live feeds from the National Theatre around the country, the NT Live programme has introduced cinema audiences to the magic of the live experience.
The Deep Blue Sea has already been acclaimed for director Carrie Cracknell's exquisite interpretation of Terence Rattigan's melancholy tale of hidden brutality. Rattigan, who remains the only playwright to have had two shows running for a thousand shows consecutively in London's West End, was an iconic 20th century author: The Deep Blue Sea combines a distinctively British restraint with seething, frustrated passions. Cracknell's production, with superb design by Tom Scutt, resists the temptation to update the 1950s' setting, rather respecting the script and encouraging strong central performances from the ensemble cast, including James Alper and Marion Bailey.
Despite his popularity, Rattigan fell victim to the rise of absurdist theatre in the latter half of the 20th century. The 'well-made play' – the elegant, precisely structured pieces which dissected social anxieties – became less fashionable during the height of the Cold War, when the severity of Beckett or Pinter expressed the national mood more immediately. With this revival, however, Cracknell rediscovered the depth of Rattigan's themes, and the resonance of the domestic scenario that unfolds into tragedy.
Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders) plays Hester Collyer – a rare example of a powerful female role from the last century. Collyer's attempted suicide exposes her tempestuous love life that cuts across 1950s' society and reveals the desires that are hidden in polite, post-war London. As much a wry commentary on the repressions of the time as one woman's tragedy, The Deep Blue Sea is a reminder of theatre's power to engage in public moral debate and entertain.
National Theatre Live, in bringing the theatre to the screen, adds a dimension to the production: since its inception in 2009, it has developed a cinematography that preserves the experience of live performance through an increasingly sophisticated filming process. The Deep Blue Sea was designed for the Lyttleton Theatre on the South Bank, and by broadcasting the event, the show is allowed to keep the atmosphere and form of the venue that defined its design.
Recovering Rattigan's work and making it available to wider audiences through event cinema resolves one of the biggest challenges faced by the National Theatre in London: how to reach audiences outside the capital without compromising on quality. Rattigan, in particular, expresses a very British sensibility, and The Deep Blue Sea is a reminder that tragedy need not be melodramatic, and that film and theatre need not be enemies.
Limited release, Thu 1 Sep.