>the deep blue sea by Escape Theatre Limited

>reviewed by charmaine toh

>date: 19 oct 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: dbs arts centre
>rating: **1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


The scene opens with Hester Collyer's (Amy Cheng) neighbours - young couple Philip (Paerin Chao) and Anne (Teo Kiat Sing), the elderly Mrs Elton (Peggy Ferroa) and the mysterious Doctor Menon (Chacko George Vadaketh) - discovering her limp body on the floor of her kitchen, the hint of gas in the air.

Did she or did she not attempt (and fail) to kill herself? A note on the living room shelf addressed to her husband Freddie tantalizingly beckons to Philip and Anne but they both resist reading it and return it to Hester upon her request. It is eventually revealed that Hester is, in reality, still the wife of the successful Queen's Counsel William Lau (Jimmy T) but had left her husband to live with Freddie Collyer, a British pilot, as his "wife", a decision she now regrets yet cannot quite bring herself to change. To reduce the play to its simplest level, she loves him but cannot live with him - Freddie is a careless, pleasure-seeking man no longer able to support his family, a twisted mirror of her relationship with William, whom she can live with but cannot love. Thus the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea of the title when William re-enters her life.

THE DEEP BLUE SEA was originally performed in 1952 and this classic British play by Terence Rattigan is considered to be one of the greatest pieces of British theatre ever written. And indeed the script is the play's strength. I found myself being pulled along by the events of the narrative as each unfolded, constantly wondering what might transpire next. The dialogue also clicked along beautifully like clockwork. Director Samantha Scott-Blackhall had also cleverly set the play in 1950s Singapore thus playing up not only issues of class but also race by pairing up Hester, the "good Chinese girl", with Freddie, the "no-good ang moh".

>>'It is not that the cast was not competent, simply that it failed to rise to the demands of the script'

Production values here were high and supported the play well but it is in the acting that the production falters in the final analysis. It is not that the cast was not competent, simply that it failed to rise to the demands of the script, often lacking the sophistication and deftness necessary to navigate the emotional labyrinth of the play.

Rattigan's Freddie is not without his own complexities and conflicts but Waite turned in a largely one-note performance. Freddie is meant to be complaining and annoying (while always a little charming) and Waite brings out this aspect of his character nicely onstage but any dimensions deeper than this were only hinted at rather than fully realised. Jimmy T as the straight-laced William impressed me with his arresting stage presence, smooth good looks and well-cut suit, very apt for the successful lawyer he was supposed to be. However, he offered a disappointingly wooden portrayal of what was supposed to be the contained pain of a man estranged from the wife he is still in love with who has left him for an obviously lesser man. Amy Cheng was the best of the three; she was cast quite appropriately - lovely features, distressed eyes, clutching arms - and effective as she swanned around on-stage alternating between delight and the depths of despair but even she turned in a performance that was lacking when the play demanded a truly heart-wrenching tour de force performance that would literally rip at the emotions of the audience. Unfortunately, the supporting cast was also particularly weak (with the notable exception of Daniel Jenkins as Freddie's best mate), coming across as cloying, unlikeable and uninteresting and they added to the weight that held the play down when it should have soared.

To be fair though, blame for the slow second act should not be borne by the actors alone. The script begins to drag after the halfway mark, with some rather ponderous philosophising about love and life. It gets a little contrived, too, and when Dr Menon just happens to knock on Hester's door right at the moment she's trying to top herself for a second time, one can't help thinking that some di ex machinis are best left dangling offstage.

Escape remains a relatively new company and even the now consistently-impressive Luna-id (which mines a similar theatrical vein and curiously, has the same associate director) had its wobbly beginnings (remember 'Joined at the Head'?). So there is no point saying it is all over before it is properly begun - but let's hope for something a little stronger next time around.