TERENCE Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea, which opened at Ilkley Playhouse this week is an extraordinary exploration of love, desire, delusion and despair.

The play begins with the aftermath of the night before – a flat in disarray and more worryingly a woman inanimate on the floor. Concerned for her well-being, her neighbours and the landlady of the building enter the flat and try to ascertain the situation. Desperate to do the right thing, a doctor is called and in a manner not unlike that of Sherlock’s Mrs Hudson, landlady and gossip Mrs Elton, played beautifully fussily by Liz Hall, starts to share confidences.

There are many untold stories in this play, all of which lead to fascinating speculation. The doctor from the flat above has been imprisoned and is not officially allowed to practice – why? The neighbourly couple - Philip and Ann Welch (played by Eoin Howe and Carol Butler) clearly have tales of their own to tell – Ann is far too anxious and Philip is far too ready to cover another man’s misdemeanours - why?

We learn that the woman on the floor, Hester Collyer, is the former wife of eminent High Court judge - Sir William Collyer. She is also the current lover of a handsome City ‘dabbler’ cum test pilot – Freddie Page, played with great languid nonchalance by James Willstrop. And now we get it. Bored housewife is enthralled by the lure of the dashing young cad and when her appeal to him starts to wane, she starts to despair.

Louise Button, as Hester, demonstrates palpably the frustration and longing of a woman trapped in a tedious life who is seeking adventure. It is only too clear how dull and miserable her life with Judge Collyer (John Rees) must have been which in turn makes his offer of a fresh start all the more tragic – surely there must be a better option…..the doctor perhaps?

Gordon Williamson’s expansive set works wonderfully with clearly defined spaces and walls that let us see what is going on behind the closed doors

Richard Hebbert’s skilful direction makes this a tense and gripping piece which, while rooted in the social conventions of the time, is pertinent for all times. This may well be a play that asks more questions than it answers but then perhaps that is the nature of ‘The Deep Blue Sea’. It runs at Ilkley Playhouse until July 22.

by Becky Carter