The Deep Blue Sea (play)

The Deep Blue Sea is a British stage play by Terence Rattigan from 1952. Rattigan based his story and characters in part on his secret relationship with Kenny Morgan, and the aftermath following the end of their relationship.[1][2] The play was first performed in London on 6 March 1952, directed by Frith Banbury, and won praise for actress Peggy Ashcroft, who co-starred with Kenneth More.[3] In the US, the Plymouth Theater staged the play in October 1952, with Margaret Sullavan.[4] The play with Sullavan subsequently transferred to Broadway, with its Broadway premiere on 5 November 1953, and running for 132 performances.

Various revivals of the play have included:

Other actresses who have portrayed Hester Collyer include Penelope Keith.[13]

Prior to Rattigan's coding of his relationship with Morgan into the heterosexual relationship between Hester and Freddie, his first draft of the play more specifically treated the relationship between the lead characters as a homosexual relationship, and also hinted that the reason for the striking off of Miller, the ex-doctor in the play, from the register was due to Miller's homosexual preferences.[3][14]

Plot summary

Taking place over the course of one day, the play begins with the discovery of Hester Collyer in her flat by her neighbours, after Hester has failed in an attempt to commit suicide by gassing herself. In flashback, some time before, Hester left her husband, Sir William Collyer, a respectable High Court judge, for a semi-alcoholic former RAF pilot, Freddie Page. Their relationship was physical and passionate, but his ardour eventually cooled, leaving her emotionally stranded and desperate. Initially unemployed, Freddie eventually takes a post in South America. The aftershocks of her attempted suicide unravel even the remnants of this relationship. By the end of the day, Hester is brought to a hard decision to live, partly through the intercession of another resident of the tenement house, Mr. Miller, an ex-doctor struck off the register for an undisclosed reason. These two outcasts, socially ostracised for their 'excessive' loves, find a curious and moving kinship.


A number of adaptations for other media of The Deep Blue Sea have been made. The first, for BBC Television, was broadcast live on 17 and 21 January 1954 in the Sunday Night Theatre strand, with Kenneth More as Freddie, and Googie Withers as Hester. Also, Googie toured Australia and New Zealand in a production presented by JC Williamson Theatres. A further BBC version, in the Play of the Month series was transmitted on 17 March 1974. Directed by Rudolph Cartier, it starred Peter Egan (Freddie), and Virginia McKenna (Hester). The most recent BBC adaptation, in the Performance strand, was transmitted on 12 November 1994, directed by Karel Reisz, with Colin Firth (Freddie Page ), Penelope Wilton (Hester Collyer), and Ian Holm (William Collyer). In 2009 BBC Radio Three broadcast a radio adaptation, starring Carolyn Pickles as Hester and Anton Lesser as William Collyer. This was repeated in 2016.

A feature film version directed by Anatole Litvak was released in 1955, with More reprising the role of Freddie, and Vivien Leigh as Hester. In 2011, a second feature film adaptation was released, directed by Terence Davies and featuring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale.[15][16]


  1. Sinfield, Alan, Out on Stage: Lesbian and Gay Theatre in the Twentieth Century. Yale University Press (New Haven, Connecticut, US), ISBN 0-300-08102-2, p 160 (1999).
  2. Lyn Gardner (2016-05-26). "Kenny Morgan review – tragic tale of Terence Rattigan's secret lover". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  3. Clifford A Ridley (1998-03-30). "'Deep Blue Sea' Revived With Blythe Danner". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  4. Joseph P Lorenz (1952-10-15). "'The Deep Blue Sea' At the Plymouth". Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  5. Tom Vallance (1997-08-08). "Obituary: Isabel Dean". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  6. Paul Taylor (1993-01-13). "Down in the depths of passion: The Deep Blue Sea - Almeida Theatre". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  7. Michael Billington (2015-05-25). "Great performances: Penelope Wilton in The Deep Blue Sea". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  8. Michael Billington (2003-09-23). "The Deep Blue Sea (Richmond Theatre, London)". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  9. Charles Spencer (2008-03-10). "The Deep Blue Sea: Swept away on an ocean of bitter tears". Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  10. Lyn Gardner (2011-02-23). "The Deep Blue Sea – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  11. Michael Billington (2011-07-26). "The Deep Blue Sea – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  12. Michael Billington (2016-06-09). "The Deep Blue Sea review – Helen McCrory blazes in passionate revival". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  13. Helena de Bertodano (2001-11-01). "A natural air of authority". Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  14. Williams, Tony, 'Wanted for Murder: The Strange Case of Eric Portman', Chapter 10 from Bad: Infamy, Darkness, Evil, and Slime on Screen (Murray Pomerance, editor). State University of New York Press (Albany, New York, US), ISBN 0-7914-5940-3, p 166 (2004).
  15. Philip French (2011-11-26). "The Deep Blue Sea – review". The Observer. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  16. Philip Hensher (2011-12-02). "Terence Rattigan, the poet of repression". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
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