If you have been following me for some time, you probably already know that I go to see every and each NT Live broadcast, time permitting. I saw Helen McCrory in both Medea and The Last of the Haussmans and as a huge fan of The Three Musketeers in general I instantly became a fan of Tom Burke’s Athos in BBC The Musketeers. Needless to say, when I found out that both of those actors were going to be on stage at National Theatre, I knew that I would be seeing it for sure. I purchased tickets for both broadcasts (they were a week or so apart, I believe) and set on reading the play beforehand.
Sadly, I failed at my plan to read the play before watching it as it turned out to be a bit difficult to find a new edition in local stores, and by the time I got my copy from BookDepository, I was already otherwise engaged.
I read the script months later after watching the play and, to be honest, I don’t regret it, as it allowed me to process my thoughts and form my opinions, and reading the script later only enhanced the experience. National Theatre production follows the script almost to the point, with the exception of few details, so unless mentioned otherwise my review is applicable to both.
From NT Live website:
Helen McCrory (Medea and The Last of the Haussmans at the National Theatre, Penny Dreadful, Peaky Blinders) returns to the National Theatre in Terence Rattigan’s devastating masterpiece, playing one of the greatest female roles in contemporary drama. Tom Burke (War and Peace, The Musketeers) also features in Carrie Cracknell’s critically acclaimed new production.
A flat in Ladbroke Grove, West London. 1952.
When Hester Collyer is found by her neighbours in the aftermath of a failed suicide attempt, the story of her tempestuous affair with a former RAF pilot and the breakdown of her marriage to a High Court judge begins to emerge.
With it comes a portrait of need, loneliness and long-repressed passion. Behind the fragile veneer of post-war civility burns a brutal sense of loss and longing.
I think this play has one of the most dramatic openings I have ever seen. The play opens with the aftermath of Hester’s attempted suicide, but at first we do not know what is happening and why she did what she did, when she is found. The depth of her despair is unraveled throughout the play. Hester is lost and trapped between the encompassing passion towards Freddie and the realization that he may never love her as much as she loves him. Both strong and weak, Hester as portrayed by Helen McCrory is a beautiful disaster to watch. Hester is desperate and her desperation drives Freddie away. He is scared, but also lost, as after the war he knows naught what to do with himself. ‘We will be death to each other’ is his excuse for leaving Hester. But, perhaps, it is what might help her rise up from the ashes at the end.
In spite of a rather heavy topic of depression, mental health and deep desire, the play is richly peppered with sarcastic remarks and witticisms, that make the play very addicting. I watched it twice and would watch it again in a heartbeat, as this production was simply amazing. What adds to the plot’s already dark beginning is the fact that Rattigan wanted his play to specifically start with the suicide by the fireplace, as it was the way his former lover had ended his life. It is said that unable to write openly about his relationship, Rattigan wrote it coded in this play.
I don’t think I will ever be able to imagine anyone else but Helen McCrory as Hester. She was stunning as Hester, her desperation and addiction to Freddie portrayed with incredible rawness on stage. Hester is convinced that there is nothing for her beyond this, until she is somewhat inspired by the former doctor who is tending to her after the suicide attempt. Every character in this play is fascinating in their own way, from the neighbours to Hester’s ‘not so ex’ husband, Freddie and his friends, but Heter steals all attention. Helen McCrory is wonderful to watch, especially in the end, which is as open as it gets. I thought about it a lot, and I personally like to see it as a beginning not an end for her character.
It is a wonderful, albeit dark play, and if you are looking for a bit of heartbreak mixed with a good doze of British sarcasm – I highly recommend you watch or read this play. My copy of this script is as heavily tabbed and bookmarked as my Oscar Wilde plays. Terrence might end up being my other favourite playwright of all time.
Play script: 5 stars
Play by National Theatre: 5 stars