Helen McCrory starred in The Deep Blue Sea in 2016, in a production directed by Carrie Cracknell and designed by Tom Scutt, with lighting design by Guy Hoare.

Cracknell’s direction emphasised the liberating power of Hester’s sexual relationship with Freddie, with unscripted moments dwelling on the physical attraction between the couple. Another addition to the otherwise faithful production of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play came in the last scene. In this production the symbolism of lighting the gas fire took second place to the act of Hester frying and eating an egg – her first meal after resolving to go on living.

How was the production staged?

Like the highly successful Almeida Theatre production from 1993 (directed by Karel Reisz and designed by William Dudley), the set of the National Theatre production used semi-transparent gauzes to bring to life the rest of the Ladbroke Grove boarding house. In certain lighting states, the seemingly solid walls of the bedsit dissolved to reveal the other inhabitants of the building eavesdropping on Hester or lost in their own private despair. Their presence helped to evoke the claustrophobic nature of living in a shared house where strangers are observed and overheard.

Tom Scutt’s faded blue set gave a nod to the 1950s without overtly signalling the period. His intention was to create a ‘limbo-like, purgatorial landscape’, where Hester was living ‘in the ghost of a blitzed building’. It also became ‘a living painting’, like one of Hester’s canvases, where the mood changed with the lighting. On a metaphorical level the design also recalled the title of the play by illuminating Hester at the bottom of a deep blue shaft, as if she had sunk to the bed of the ocean.[1]

How did critics respond to the production?

The production was generally very well received, with high praise for Helen McCrory as Hester Collyer. The Observer’s theatre critic Susannah Clapp called it ‘an indelible performance’, where ‘Helen McCrory is buffeted, wretched, plaintive, strung-along, strung-up, manipulative. All the things a 21st-century woman does not want to be. Yet she makes of Hester Collyer a remarkable and unexpected heroine’ (The Observer, 12 June 2016).

[1]The Deep Blue Sea: Carrie Cracknell and Tom Scutt’, interviewed by Kate Mosse <>  [Accessed 9 February 2017].