English Touring Theatre at Oxford Playhouse.
A review by Julia Gasper
Dramatizing a novel is never easy and this one poses particular problems. Phillip Breen’s adaptation is rather a free one, and creates a new version that makes sense on its own terms and is in many ways better than the original. It focuses more on the grievances of the working class – which were immense – and less on sheer hatred of the upper class, who were caricatured in the book. The politics is brought to the forefront, with a miners’ rally where a speaker refers to the slaughter of common soldiers in the recent First World War. That puts a perspective on the entire story.
When Constance Chatterley (Hedydd Dylan) is meeting Mellors the gamekeeper (Jonah Russell) and holding the baby pheasants in her hands, their first moment of intimacy and tenderness, we realise that the birds are being bred to be shot and there is an underlying analogy with the soldiers and the workers. Hedydd Dylan brought sensitivity to her role and projects Constance as a vulnerable, lonely woman, whose childless state is tragic. Mellors senses her loneliness and her need for affection. She is intrigued by his proud, reserved demeanor and laconic, vernacular speech, which Russell did well. The scenes of naked dancing in the rain and almost childish play with flowers were done in a tasteful way.
As Ivy Bolton, Rachel Sanders was both powerful and an important character. The widow of a miner killed down the crippled Sir Clifford’s mine, she comes to look after him. She has qualified as a nurse and this gives her some money and status in the village. D.H. Lawrence portrays her as a hateful figure, but in this dramatization she is sympathetic and rightly so, as she puts the point of view of the suffering miners and their wives. She represents the new aspirations of women, to work and independence, something that D.H. Lawrence feared and loathed. Making the story into a stage adaptation removes the narrator, which is a great improvement. The narrator is not there to snarl his disapproval of Ivy Bolton, or to insist that she is common. She speaks for herself, and we are not prejudiced against her. When at the end, she gains the affections of Sir Clifford (Eugene O’Hare), we do not have to disapprove or call it perverse: Connie is dumping him, so surely it’s a good thing that he has found someone’s shoulder to cry on, and this relationship, too, crosses class barriers.
As Sir Clifford, Eugene O’Hare needed to speak up as his voice was too quiet. It is not a rewarding role, as the disabled husband is rejected and mocked, because he is also the landowner and mine owner, so represents injustice of every kind. There is a shocking scene when Mellors get beaten up in Tevershall.
We see very little in this version of Bertha, Mellor’s estranged wife, or Hilda, Connie’s bossy sister, characters of whom the narrator likewise disapproved. Lawrence hated assertive, liberated women, but with the narrator gone, the problem of his vitriolic attacks on them (the reason I couldn’t stand this book when I was an undergraduate) is also gone. So are some of the embarrassing details that should have been edited out of the novel. It’s a great improvement. What is left is a story that gives a broad and knowledgeable picture of England in the Midlands in the 1920s, and pleads for life and warm, physical, man-woman love in a way that is more effective with some of the author’s original anger and bitterness taken out. Connie and Mellors set off to start a sort of hippie life together, rejecting the industrial world as far as people can realistically do this.
The sets are on the whole bleak and we could do without the words projected on the backdrop “Winter”, “Spring” etc. Such messages are better suggested through light and colour, and birdsong twittering. However, on the whole this is a thoughtful adaptation that is worth seeing for anyone who is interested in Lawrence or the modern novel.
Julia Gasper. 19th October 2016. https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/theatre/3708/Lady-Chatterley’s-Lover/18-10-2016/Main-Stage
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