A darkened flat in a city somewhere in post war England, a strong smell of gas, bangs on the door, the body of a woman lying face down on the carpet in front of an unlit gas fire.  But Hester wasn’t dead, the meter had run out before the gas could asphyxiate her.  There was a suicide note to Freddy behind the clock on the mantlepiece.

Freddy and Hester had met a year ago at a golf club and fallen in love instantly by the ninth green.  Freddy used to fly Spits during the war and had not long been classified unfit to be a test pilot; impaired judgement due to drinking.  Hester was married to Sir William Collyer, the judge, and was bored.  Freddy gave her the excitement she craved.  She gave him, what – the sex, the stability, a safe haven.   They loved each other passionately, desperately – too desperately.  They clung to each other.  There was no meaning in life if they were not together.  Sir William wouldn’t give his wife a divorce, so flaunting public taste, they lived together.  There was so little money.   Freddy spent all his time on the golf course or down at the bookmakers having a flutter on the gee-gees.  Hester painted, but didn’t sell much.  Still they had each other.  So why did she try to commit suicide?  The fact was that Freddy had forgotten her birthday.  Not anything to kill yourself over, you might have thought, but in the context of their relationship, it was devastating. 

When people fall in love, they don’t so much love each other, they love themselves or an idealised version of themselves.   When the one they respect and admire, claims to love them too,  they become a  better person.  They identify with the idealisations and become more clever, witty, bright and  more attractive.  It is such an exhilarating, exciting, joyous state of being.   There’s nothing like it.  Nothing else means anything.  

It’s a wonderful delusion, but it’s still a delusion.  If they lose themselves in it and start to believe it, they can get lost, go mad.  But when they realise it’s a delusion, the disappointment can be devastating.  How can they ever again capture that meaning, that intensity of being?  And without that, what’s the point in living anymore?  

That’s what had happened to Freddy and Hester.  Their passion was so strong, so compulsive, that they had flaunted convention, shocked society and run away together, only to come face to face with the disappointment of reality.  ‘Is that all there is?’ 

So instead of dicing with death among the clouds, Freddy spends his days on the links and drinks himself to a slow death in a bottle of whisky, while Hester sits at home, bored, painting meaningless landscapes of holidays they will never have.  Sex is the only relief, but Freddy,  the flying ace, the high altitude test pilot, can’t get it up any more.  The spark has gone out of their relationship.  They are bored with each other but they cling on unable to face up to the dreadful disappointment; the awful desolation of meaning.  Theirs has become a toxic, deadly relationship.  Suicide is the only way out. 

Doctor Miller, struck off some time ago for some undisclosed misdemeanour, is the only one who understands the situation.   It is he, the embodiment of Sigmund Freud complete with German accent, who coaches Hester to be brave enough to take the option of life. 

‘There’s only one way out of this.  Give up hope and then you will find life.’

It’s only when Hester can accept that their relationship is over forever, that the deadly pain of clinging is far worse than the pain of loneliness,  that she can find the peace and the fulfilment that life can offer.  In the meantime she wanders in purgatory between the devil and deep blue sea.  

Suzy Godson wrote in The Times yesterday that it takes about five years to dismantle a relationship and move on and even then requires considerable courage.  For Hester and Freddy, their anguish lasted a day, before he left to be a test pilot in Brazil, but that’s theatre for you.           

The Deep Blue Sea has been playing at that industrial barn amid the flattened buildings and car parks of Quarry Hill, they call the West Yorkshire Playhouse.  I have never really enjoyed a play there.   Not that they don’t have good stuff;  the building has no style and sophistication, the food is grotty, the musak intrusive, the surrounds look like a bombsite 70 years on, and the plays seem to take on the same air of desolation and hopelessness. 

The Deep Blue Sea is not a great play.  The subject matter is important and difficult, the Freudian interpretation meaningful,  but it’s too long.  I felt it could have stopped at half time when Freddy announces he has accepted a job in South America and leaves; we didn’t need the working through of the last act.  The direction (who is Sarah Esdaile?) was not subtle enough; the actors couldn’t quite create the desperation and passion the situation demanded.   The dramatic scenes were unconvincing, the sex embarrassing, the doctor more weird than wise.  The only character I could believe in was the housekeeper Mrs Elton.  The audience greeted the ending with that wild enthusiasm usually reserved for concerts, but it wasn’t that good (4/10).  Even Maxine Peake was well, underwhelming; she belted it out like an exercise in drama school.   It was the last night.  At least that’s one thing that was good about the performance. 

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