Terence Rattigan did not regard the text of The Deep Blue Sea as sacrosanct, and when problems were revealed during the rehearsal process, he revised his script, particularly the last act which was still falling short in spite of multiple rewrites.
Until 1968 it was necessary to submit any new stage play to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office (a department of the Royal Household) to receive a licence for public performance. The Lord Chamberlain received a pre-rehearsal draft of The Deep Blue Sea in early January 1952, and this version, with further corrections, was submitted later that month.
How does this version compare with early drafts of The Deep Blue Sea?
The first two acts are largely the same but Act 3 is significantly different. It is shorter and less repetitive, the order of scenes differs from Rattigan’s original sequence and Mr Miller persuading Hester to go on living has become a much more convincing confrontation.
What do the annotations show?
These annotations are not in Rattigan’s hand but they document the changes made during the rehearsal process. The melodramatic telephone call made by Hester at the start of Act 3 has been replaced with a different, incoming call in which Hester is obliged to maintain a façade of calm, conventional politeness, despite her mounting desperation. A version of this telephone conversation originally appeared later in the act (f. 71), but its removal strengthens the moment of understanding between Mr Miller and Hester directly preceding it.
Were any further changes made?
The Deep Blue Sea opened in Brighton on 4 February 1952 ahead of its London premiere on 6 March. Changes were still being made to the staging, if not the script itself, during the Brighton previews. In a telegram to his American agent, Rattigan reported that the last act had been improved, partly due to the performance of Peggy Ashcroft who played Hester:
ENDING NOW MUCH LESS NEGATIVE AND DEPRESSING SINCE ASHCROFT HAS PLAYED LAST ACT WITH MORE RESERVES OF STRENGTH ALSO REARRANGEMENT OF BUSINESS AT FINAL CURTAIN HAS MADE MORE IMPORTANT SYMBOLISM OF LIGHTING GAS FIRE STOP
The play opened in New York at the end of 1952 with Margaret Sullavan as Hester. A number of Hester’s lines which had been cut for the English production were restored for Sullavan because she lacked Peggy Ashcroft’s skill at playing subtext.
 Copy of telegram from Terence Rattigan to Harold Freedman, 9 February 1952. Terence Rattigan Papers, British Library Add MS 74357A, f. 127.
- Full title:
- Lord Chamberlain's Plays. Rehearsal script for The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan
- September 1951–January 1952, London
- Typescript / Manuscript / Draft
- Terence Rattigan
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Terrence Rattigan: © the Sir Terence Rattigan Charitable Trust
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You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.
Lord Chamberlain's Office: © Crown Copyright. This material has been published under an Open Government Licence.
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- Add MS 67783
- Article by:
- Greg Buzwell
- Gender and sexuality, 20th-century theatre, Exploring identity
By the end of the 1950s, playwrights had gained new freedoms to represent homosexual characters and themes on the British stage. Greg Buzwell charts the impact of the Wolfenden Report and Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey on the Lord Chamberlain’s strict censorship policy.
- Article by:
- Dan Rebellato
- 20th-century theatre, Gender and sexuality, Exploring identity
Dan Rebellato recounts the inspiration for and early reception of The Deep Blue Sea, and compares successive drafts of the script to see how Terence Rattigan created a play at once restrained and emotionally intense.