Maxine Peake made her name as the feisty Veronica in Shameless and now arguably the most gifted actress of her generation is treading the boards in a powerful revival of fifties melodrama The Deep Blue Sea.
‘Rattigan’s unashamedly commercial work fell out of favour as the Royal Court’s Angry Young Men smashed their way into the West End but this revival will do much to restore his reputation as a gifted - if not quite first division - British playwright.’
The West Yorkshire Playhouse is staging one of Terence Rattigan’s most enduring hits as a celebration of the centenary of his birth. The action opens with Hester Collyer lying prostrate in front of her gas fire after a botched suicide attempt.
Hester has attempted to take her life because of her toxic, doomed relationship with drunken former fighter pilot Freddie Page who she scandalously ran off with leaving her heartbroken husband behind.
This refugee from polite society is saved by her busybody landlady Mrs Elton and is revived by disgraced former doctor Mr Miller, who occupies the flat upstairs.
Throughout the lengthy first act there are real echoes of brutal indie film hit ‘Blue Valentine’ with the indoor fireworks finally igniting as Hester and Freddie tear lumps off each other through stiff upper lips.
The second act revolves around Hester’s agony as she finally realises the feckless Page is determined to flee to South America while she fends off the advances of her cuckolded husband who remains hopelessly in love with this brittle woman.
It’s a little odd to see the famously proudly working class Peake adopting a cut-glass accent, but her subtle use of body language and accurate portrayal of world weariness slowly reveals the fragile nature of Hester as a desperate woman facing the grim reality of losing the love of her life.
But it’s not just the Maxine Peake show as Lex Shrapnel (I’m not making that name up) is equally good as the drunken war hero yearning for the macho camaraderie of the Battle of Britain and he cleverly captures the complexities of a deeply unsympathetic character.
The supporting cast is uniformly strong but Sam Cox as the sardonic and shamed quack Mr Miller almost steals the show with a string of well-timed one-liners which help lighten the misery.
Rattigan’s unashamedly commercial work fell out of favour as the Royal Court’s Angry Young Men smashed their way into the West End but this revival will do much to restore his reputation as a gifted - if not quite first division - British playwright.
Maxine Peake’s star power will no doubt guarantee The Deep Blue Sea bums on seats and being a very mainstream work, a talented cast pull off an unlikely triumph to kickstart the Playhouse’s 21st year celebrations.
The Deep Blue Sea runs until March12 and ticket details are available from www.wyp.org.uk