1950s female independence brought to life on stage

Lilydale Theatre regular Ben Freeland will take on the role of Freddie Page in The Deep Blue Sea production. Picture: MIKAYLA VAN LOON.

By Mikayla van Loon

Seeing a show at The Lilydale Athenaeum Theatre is like stepping back in time, entering the grand foyer, enjoying a sherry and witnessing the beauty of the theatre itself.

Travel back in time to the 1950s this May and June as the company brings a post-war drama of love, life and loss to the stage in Terence Rattigan’s ‘The Deep Blue Sea’.

Witness the love triangle of Hester Collyer, Freddie Page and judge William Collyer as despair and anguish overcomes the young lady when she attempts to find purpose in life.

Cast as Freddie Page, Ben Freeland has become a regular on stage at the Lilydale Athenaeum Theatre but he said what grabbed him about this role was playing a character so different from himself.

“For me, I think it’s a juxtaposition of my natural character. There’s just a level of brashness and stunted emotional intelligence for the character, he’s just brutish and ignorant and unaware of how emotionally damaging he is to the women he engages in relationships with,” Freeland said.

Preparing to play a character that is largely self absorbed, Freeland said “the fun for me is trying to find the human” because even under the facade, a human being exists.

Director Alan Burrows said while it is quite a serious play, those who have studied Terence Rattigan’s work regard it as something of foresight into the female escape from dependency.

“Even though it was written in the 1950s it has an element of a woman making decisions about her own life and it’s almost a preemptive feministic approach to relationships,” he said.

“In the end, she’s prepared to step beyond what would be a very comfortable lifestyle with the judge and realising that the younger man can’t really give her what she wants either and she comes to the conclusion that she can make her own way in life and be independent of either relationship.”

As a director Burrows said he has been drawing out certain elements in scenes, emphasising the relationships between men and women, as well as women asserting themselves equally.

“The important thing is to hit those issues but also to direct it in a way that heightens the tension as to what is actually happening and therefore, the interactions between both men and Hester is to actually create tension when they interact,” Burrows said.

“So the audience are, in a sense, kept on the edge of their seats as to whether she is going to continue down the path of self destruction or is she not and hopefully, we build the tension in a way that still right to the very end, they’re not quite sure which way she’s going to jump.”

Freeland said while the play is dark and comments on mental health, the audience should connect to the realness of it no matter the generation.

“This is a more sombre piece and really dark in terms of its subject matter but it should be more true to life, it should be quite real I would hope,” he said.

“If the relationships that we can build during the rehearsal process exist, then people should feel a lot of mixed emotions about all the characters in the play.”

With that focus on the beginnings of women’s empowerment in the 1950s, Burrows said he believes women in the audience will feel quite a strong connection to Hester and her struggles.

For men, Burrows said may perhaps witness the shortcomings in both male characters in their reaction and solution to Hester’s despair.

Eight actors have been cast for the play, with Angela Glennie playing Hester, Phil Lambert playing her husband and Ben Freeland playing her forbidden lover.

“It is a serious story and what will captivate audiences will be the power of the performances,” Burrows said.

The season will run from Thursday 19 May to Saturday 4 June. To book visit www.lilydaleatc.com/ or call 9735 1777.