Mrs Elton has seen a good many things during her time as a nosey landlady. But never before has one of her tenants tried to commit suicide by gassing herself. Only the fact that she didn't put enough shillings in the meter prevented Hester Collyer from ending her life. Or perhaps she never intended to die, and the suicide attempt was a cry for help: Mrs Collyer lives with a decidedly erratic, much younger lover, following the failure of her marriage ten months earlier.

Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea is set a few years after the Second World War, when many loose ends still floated about. Mrs Elton (who does seem caring, and not just interested in recovering Hester Collyer's rent arrears) alerts kindly "Mr Miller" (Tim McMullan), who comes down the rickety stairs from the flat above to assist. In spite of his British name he has a thick middle-European accent, and Mrs Elton (Jacqueline Tong) hints that he is a doctor who has been struck off in mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile, Hester Collyer's lover is a loose cannon. He was a wartime flying ace, but has not adjusted to the much less exciting peacetime world. A rampant drink problem has put paid to a career as a test pilot.

Into the dingy flat (Francis O'Connor's set design reeks atmosphere, and makes a major contribution to the production) marches Hester's husband. Shining like a well-polished rapier, Sir William Collyer (Simon Williams) is a judge, and not used to being contradicted. But - and here one of Rattigan's motives for writing this play begins to appear - he is incapable of showing his emotions, especially in the physical way that his wife craves. "When you're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, the deep blue sea can look very inviting," Hester Collyer remarks at one point. Rattigan wrote The Deep Blue Sea following the suicide of a former lover, Ken Morgan, an event that affected him for the rest of his life.

Edward Hall directs at a fairly slow pace by modern standards, but rarely lets the tension slip. The plum roles go to Greta Scacchi as Hester, and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart as her puppyish lover, Freddie Page. Scacchi presents a Hester who somehow retains a core of steel, even though she doesn't know which way to turn. In the play's most telling scene, when Page inevitably decides to leave her it's no surprise that he meekly obeys her command to come and collect his own things, instead of sending a friend.

"I really wanted cheering up tonight," a member of the audience remarked plaintively to her friend afterwards. This was not the play for her, but this is a good opportunity to experience a master playwright at work.

The Deep Blue Sea continues at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, tonight and tomorrow. Tickets: 01242 572573 or online at