Hester Collyer, the wife of a staid and respectable High Court Judge, has abandoned the marriage to go off and set up home with Freddie Page, a younger man. The play reflects the social mores of the late forties when such conduct has made her a social outcast.
Freddie, feckless, drinking too much and set on a path of self-destruction, is a former pilot whose life stopped when he left the RAF. He has allowed the physical and passionate relationship to cool and although he still loves her in his own way, it no longer matches her needs. It is the desperation, caused by the realisation that her depth of love cannot be returned, that leads to Hester’s attempt on her life.
The events following the failed suicide provide a well drawn study of degrees of love. In addition to Hester’s still burning passion and the embers of Freddie’s dwindling fire yet another level of love is explored. It is the restrained love which existed within the marriage, unexpressed by the husband until the suicide attempt provides the catalyst.
Rattigan has written some fine confrontational scenes allowing feelings to be released, expressed and explored. Interlaced with these are moments of humour and black comedy.
John Hopkins adds to the caddishness of Freddie an air of a little boy lost who, by his own admission has never been able to involve himself in the emotions of others. It is the shock that he has caused the suicide attempt through his inability to equal Hester’s love that makes him evaluate his life and move on without her.
As Hester’s husband, Anthony Calf, has all the stiffness and priggishness that the part requires but is quite touching when his reserve is breached. In pointing out the ramifications of divorce he focuses on how the scandal would affect his career especially when it would be splashed all over The News of the World – a line that draws broad laughter from the audience.
Amanda Root gives a memorable performance as Hester – one that is beautifully observed and full of differing emotions – fragility, passion, obsession and, finally, a dignified resolution. She is particularly moving as she recounts her first meeting with Freddie – her eyes glowing with love.