'Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water' Act IV, Scene II, Henry VIII
‘Into the Deep’ tells the story of Thomas Lewin and his family in rural Cornwall as he attempts to balance everyday life and his unresolved emotions. The play opens on the dysfunctional Lewin family and its likewise family members and the plot revolves around the unhealthy family dynamic coloured by mental illness. Told using a non-linear timeline, we peer into the destructive and painful past of Thomas and how it has influenced the present interactions with his family. The theme of toxic masculinity is brought to the forefront in all the interactions we see between the characters.
Thomas tries to portray a proud and invulnerable attitude about the family struggles, even though they seem to trigger flashbacks in his mind. Despite how hard he tries to reject these feelings, his mind betrays him and gives an honest glimpse of the emotions underneath his ‘masculine’ exterior.
This kind of repressive toxic masculinity that is passed from father to son stunts emotional development, causes psychosis and results in times of violence and echoes through generations. This is clearly exhibited when Marlon, Thomas’ son, is accepted into a Maths program that requires him to leave the family. Thomas loses control of the situation and resorts to violence to maintain the power struggle in his favour. Through a flashback, we see that the same happened to Thomas and his dad, reinforcing the idea of inter-generational struggle.
Throughout all these familial interactions, none of the issues are dealt with head-on. The family resort to witty humour and rhetorical digs, attempting to avoid the pain and emotion of the situation at hand. When Thomas’ daughter, Carla, has a psychotic break-down, it is the first scene where the play acknowledges the idea of mental health as an issue. The audience sees that everyone can experience emotional struggle, and this moment highlights that the problem goes beyond the males of the house.
As the play progresses, we go further into the psyche of Thomas and see how he is hurt and vulnerable on the inside, which contrasts so much with his tough exterior. The pain of losing a mum, a friend and living with an emotionally manipulative father are some of the defining unresolved issues of his childhood that seems to permeate his character making him a jaded, sharp tongued father. Despite this, he does not intend to hurt his children, but it seems that he does not have the emotional intelligence to deal with his ensemble of emotions.
Though the play gives a well-written account of noxious masculinity and its effects on the family dynamic, it does little in the way of presenting a resolution or novel view on the plot line. The play presents the internal struggle of its characters but offers neither resolution nor character development for the problems at hand. It simply recounts an episode that highlights toxic masculinity and mental illness but stays at this surface level of the topic. Portraying such a taboo topic alone is not enough to warrant praise if it is not truly explored. Yet the play is still extremely affecting, and handles the topic of mental health with sensitivity, whilst maintaining the message that such relationship struggles leave no one unscathed.