I am generally a barbarian when it comes to art galleries. My approach is not to stand in front of a painting or sculpture, say, and mull over its intensity and whether the artist’s depiction of a small hen’s egg means that he fancied his own mother or a glass of red wine means he was wrangling with inner turmoil over his religious beliefs. Whatever mate. Instead, it is quite simply ‘Do I like that painting or sculpture enough to have in my flat?’ The fact that I would only be able to afford said painting or sculpture if it was 50p is neither here nor there. It’s just a game I play.
Sometimes, this gets me in trouble. I went to an exhibition last year on the invitation of a very kind gentleman who was so old that he’d been taught falconry as a boy by my late grandfather. I told this elderly gentleman about my approach to galleries and he gamely walked me round the exhibition asking which painting he should have in his bedroom so I could come and inspect it.
Anyway, point being that sometimes I am a heathen when it comes to culture. But last night I went to see The Deep Blue Sea, the Terrence Rattigan play starring Helen McCrory at the National, and it was so exceptional – both the writing and the acting – that I will be thinking about it for a long time.
I can’t recall ever having seen a Rattigan play and a friend who was with me last night said that he drifted out of fashion in recent years. His writing heyday was in the 1940s and 50s, and The Deep Blue Sea tells the story of a woman called Hester who’s basically deranged with lust and infatuation. According to the National blurb, it’s one of the greatest female roles in contemporary drama and I can totally see why. It’s about need and longing and love and decisions in life and for two and a half hours Helen McCrory isn’t Helen McCrory at ALL. She is a shivering, chain-smoking, jangling coat hanger of a woman balancing right on the precipice of the decisions she’s made and has to make. Opposite her is an incredibly handsome actor called Tom Burke, who played Dolokhov (the dueling, hat-wearing, moustachioed baddie) in War and Peace if you saw the recent TV version.
The entire cast is brilliant though, and I was transfixed throughout when quite often at the theatre I start worrying about when the interval is because I need the loo and/or an ice-cream or when the play’s finally going to finish so I can get home to bed. Sometimes, I also spend quite a lot of time subtly trying to read the watch of the person in the seat next to me since I don’t wear one. But I didn’t think about the time once last night. I am going to add the 1955 film version to my list of things to see since it stars Vivien Leigh who does unhinged so convincingly.
It’s quite annoying of me to tell you to go and see Deep Blue Sea because tickets have long sold out, although the National does release day tickets. So either go and queue for one of those OR if you don’t have time to queue yourself find an idle teenager – there are loads kicking about at the moment, it’s the summer holidays – and bribe them to go and stand in a queue. Tell them it’s a PokeStop or something.