Occasionally, you can watch a piece of theatre in a local fringe venue that is so powerful, it leaves you stunned and stays with you long after it finishes. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is one of these. One of my highlights of the GM Fringe Festival, it moved me so much that it became seared into my mind. I was desperate to watch the play again. Thankfully, Play With Fire Productions have revived it for a short run at Hope Mill Theatre, keeping the same cast.
John Patrick Shanley‘s play depicts a chance encounter between two repulsive people, at a bar in the Bronx, which disturbingly evolves into a twisted romance.
Danny is an aggressive trucker who is hot-tempered, and brutally violent. His workmates call him “The Beast“. Sporting bruised knuckles and a bruised face, he thinks he just killed a guy in a fight. Roberta is a young single mother who is equally troubled. An abusive relationship with her Roman Catholic parents have left her burning with injustice, feeling that she needs to be punished for the harrowing acts from her disturbing past. These are two fascinating, complex characters who have few redeeming qualities and appear to be entirely hateful people, but no more than they loathe themselves.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea provides a compelling insight into the depravity of human nature. But its masterstroke is in stripping back these characters, and gradually allowing them to become compatible with each other, revealing the vulnerability behind their cruel façades. Danny’s violent nature alarmingly offsets Roberta’s longing for retribution. It is a disturbing relationship, but one that is engrossing.
A sparse, yet effective set focuses the audience’s attention on these two complex characters, as the action moves from the bar in the Bronx to Roberta’s tiny bedroom. A mattress on the floor, and a bookcase are the only decoration on show, meaning that you become entirely absorbed in the breathtaking performances by Hannah Ellis-Ryan and Danny Solomon.
Both Solomon and Ellis Ryan were nominated for best actor at the GM Fringe Awards, and it is easy to see why. They both deliver performances of the highest standards, fully embodying their complex characters. It is the best acting I have seen so far this year, proving that you don’t need to go to London’s West End to see top quality acting. Solomon and Ellis Ryan were so captivating, I genuinely forgot to breathe at points in the play. It is only when I exhaled that I realised I had been holding my breath.
When Danny and the Deep Blue Sea begins, both actors are visibly seething with intense anger and rage. It’s an explosive opening, as these two characters clash with each other. Despite her smaller stature, Ellis Ryan is as physically intimidating as Solomon. Rather than being frightened of Danny’s violent brutality, she squares up against him, disarming Danny. Ellis Ryan masterfully renders Roberta’s intense self-loathing, almost spitting out her dialogue in hatred of herself. Roberta views Danny’s violence as her retribution for her past mistakes.
Likewise, Solomon simmers with extreme anger, visibly shaking, clenching his bruised fists. Quick to anger, the only thing that calms the storm inside Danny’s mind is when he hits someone. After meeting Roberta though, his temper diminishes. Solomon superbly strips back his character’s violent nature, revealing the excruciating vulnerability that lies inside “The Beast“. Solomon becomes physically distraught at moments, curling on the floor, weeping in disgust at what he has become. “Nobody talks to me. I’m alone wherever I am. Somebody help me”. Roberta is his chance of salvation.
Both actors perfectly retain the delicate balance between the physical brutality, and emotional frailty of their characters. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a powerful, intense play that is utterly absorbing as a result of Solomon and Ellis Ryan’s phenomenal performances.