Lady Chatterley's Lover
by Phillip Breen.
Adapted from the novel by D. H. Lawrence
Produced by English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres,
22 September – 26 November 2016:
Crucible, Sheffield (22 Sep – 15 Oct)
Oxford Playhouse (18 – 22 Oct)
York Theatre Royal (25 – 29 Oct)
Festival Theatre, Malvern (1 – 5 Nov)
Salisbury Playhouse (8 – 12 Nov)
Theatre Royal Brighton (15 – 19 Nov)
Cambridge Arts Theatre (22 – 26 Nov)
cast list | reviews | photographs | flyer
Aretha Ayeh – Mrs Flint/ Mrs Bentley/ Singer
Hedydd Dylan – Constance Chatterley
Eugene O'Hare – Sir Clifford Chatterley
Will Irvine – Michaelis / Trade Unionist / Dan Coutts / Albert Adam
Ciaran McIntyre – Sir Malcolm Reid / Mr Linley / Field / Doctor
David Osmond – Pianist
Jonah Russell – Oliver Mellors
Rachel Sanders – Ivy Bolton
Alice Selwyn – Hilda
Director – Phillip Breen
Designer – Laura Hopkins
Lighting Designer – Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer – Andrea J Cox
Movement Director – Ayse Tashkiran
Casting Director – Charlotte Sutton
Assistant Director – George Richmond-Scott
Fight Director – Renny Krupinski
by Patrick Marmion
To the everlasting frustration of many an eager schoolboy, you have to wade through an awful lot of earnest philosophising to get to the saucy stuff in D.H. Lawrence’s erotic novel. And if you don’t already know the book that was famously banned, from its publication in 1928 until 1960, it’s the one about the posh lady who has a passionate affair with her husband’s hunky gamekeeper. But the surprisingly gratifying thing about Philip Breen’s adaptation is that it, too, takes sex seriously — and is all the better for it.
His elegant and thought-provoking production, opening in a week when sex took centre stage — a new version of The Libertine premiered in London, on Tuesday — moves the action from Nottingham to Yorkshire. But it isn’t just a Northern Kama Sutra or Fifty Shades Of Grey in Twenties frocks. Instead, Breen latches onto Lawrence’s ideas about love and sex as rooted in a need for renewal after the hell and destruction of World War I. Where on TV today, sex is used for steamy Poldarkian purposes, here the full-on nudity is genuinely adult. It emphasises the tenderness and vulnerability of the human body.
This may come as a shock to those who have grown used to the commercial exploitation of sex and its reduction to titillation. Drooling salacity is not on the agenda here. Instead, Breen’s production is a soulful affair, mixing short, filmic scenes with elegiac piano music on a stage frequently strewn with flowers. The director manages to persuade us that this is not just a story about a randy lady, enjoying a bit of rough. It is, rather, a passionate human affair that not only causes pain to loved ones but also to the tut-tutting wider community. Which is not to say that the show is without humour — there are moments of delicious mirth.
But it’s the complex characterisation that is the strongest feature. Hedydd Dylan is a tall, willowy Art Deco beauty as the Lady of the Manor, entombed in a marriage to a husband left paralysed and impotent by war. She is a woman liberated in mind and body who risks her security — and standing — to pursue her affair. Jonah Russell cuts a tall, lean and taciturn figure as Mellors, the worker who lays everything on the line for the love of ‘our lass’ (to the delight of the audience, Mellors has a Sheffield accent, his wooing peppered with ‘thees’ and ‘thous’). Both are shy yet proud in the raw.
Neither the novel nor this adaptation duck the consequences of their actions. Eugene O’Hare’s Clifford Chatterley, as insistently enlightened as he is patrician, urges his wife to satisfy herself and bear him an heir. His pomposity in seeing authoritarianism as a ‘sacred responsibility’ is matched only by his pain at losing his wife’s physical affection. Similarly, Rachel Sanders, as the matron who nurses Clifford, is both a dour Methodist and a compassionate carer sensitive to the needs of both parties and has a sad, sensual past of her own. There are problems with the sometimes laboured book, not least Lawrence’s contempt for ordinary folk and their ‘petty’ ways (which include fighting for their rights). Although Breen touches on this, with some cursory representation of Left-wing agitators, his focus is more on the tenderness and pain of human relations. Where Lawrence railed against the hypocrisy of Victorian repression, Breen demonstrates that he still has much to say to modern audiences, for whom sexuality has become a minefield of political correctness.
by Clare Allfree
DH Lawrence’s infamous 1928 novel Lady Chatterley's Lover poses a problem to theatre adaptors. To make the sex between those transgressive lovers Lady Chatterley and her gamekeeper Mellors less explicit than in Lawrence’s original is, in some small way, to hand victory to those who tried to ban it. And yet, as anyone who has watched two people fumble about on stage will know, sex in the theatre can be a cringeworthy business. What to do?
Philip Breen, who also directs, takes the bull by the horns, as it were. There are quite a few instances of cavorting bare bottoms (although we sadly don’t hear Connie’s wonderful observation of love as “this ridiculous bouncing of the buttocks”). Breen even depicts the novel’s most notorious scene, as Jonah Russell’s naked Mellors threads Forget-me-nots through what he quaintly calls Connie’s “maiden hair” and Hedydd Dylan’s Connie affectionately refers to his exposed genitals as “so soft and tiny”. They’re both completely naked, but it’s all utterly tasteful – there shouldn’t be any sniggering at the back.
Of course, LCL isn’t only about sex, or, more specifically, about a woman’s right to enjoy an orgasm when and however she wants it. It’s a furious tirade against the tyranny of class and money set against an England shattered almost to pieces by the Great War. As though from deep within the very mines that pucker the landscape surrounding Connie’s home at Wragby Hall, there’s the threat of a fairer, angrier England rising up.
Breen’s ferocious razing of the text retains elements of this, but it’s clear his main focus is the budding relationship between Mellors and Connie. His production opens in the depths of Connie’s nervous breakdown. The early short scenes with her paralysed husband Clifford (an impressive Eugene O’Hare) are as brittle as shards of glass. Time is marked out by the funereal ticking of the clock.
by Lyn Gardner
DH Lawrence’s working title for his infamous 1928 novel was Tenderness. Adapter and director Phillip Breen finds plenty of that in the story of Constance who finds solace in the arms of Oliver Mellors, the estate gamekeeper, after her husband returns home injured and impotent from the first world war.
Cleverly, Breen keeps the titters at bay. The first glimpse of nudity is not during sex, but in a doctor’s examination room where Constance (Hedydd Dylan) stands thin and pale as paper. When she and Mellors (Jonah Russell) do remove their clothes, they are as awkward and shy as teenagers. It is sweet and silly, not sexy. After they first couple – a swift, animal-like encounter – Mellors decorously moves her skirt back in place across her thigh as if protecting her ladyship’s modesty.
In the novel’s first paragraph, Lawrence writes: “We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.” Constance speaks those words towards the end of the show, but the sentiment hovers over the whole production which, in its stunning opening moments, sees life resume in the great house as the furniture is released from dust clothes that look like shrouds. The war is a pall that hangs over everything.
In Laura Hopkins’ clever and simple design, armfuls of flowers are used to suggest a wood in spring, the flowering of love and also a graveyard. The ancient wood is where all the hopes of Constance’s husband, Clifford (Eugene O’Hare), are buried. He’s an unsympathetic man, his impotence symptomatic of a class that fails to realise that the world has changed for ever and that men do not need masters. Nevertheless, the evening’s most moving moment belongs not to the lovers but to him. With an appalling struggle, he manages to briefly stand upright when he talks to Constance after she has returned from Venice, where he believes she has gone to conceive the child they cannot have together.
The production is beady-eyed about class, but so fillets the original that the focus becomes far narrower, moving away from the mining dispute in the novel and robbing the evening of a sense of a society on the brink of change and seething with ideas around socialism.
Breen the director often copes admirably and initially makes some capital out of the succession of short scenes offered by Breen the writer, but as the evening extends towards three hours, it never finds a fluidity and becomes as stop-start as Sir Clifford’s motorised bath chair. There is a danger, too, that the pervasive, desultory postwar malaise translates into an overall flatness of tone that is underwhelming. It is as if the sky hasn’t fallen but merely tilted a little.
In one of the best scenes the lovers run around the forest naked in the rain, their bodies vulnerable to the bullet-like drops of water that fall from the sky. Andrea J Cox’s sound design constantly invokes the twitter of birds conjuring not just this wood in England but Flanders, too.
by Ruth Deller
For something based on a text with such a controversial history, the English Touring Theatre/Sheffield Theatres production of Lady Chatterley's Lover (directed by Phillip Breen) is remarkably chaste. Sure, there is plenty of full-frontal nudity throughout (and this is equally the case for Hedydd Dylan's Lady Chatterley and Jonah Russell's Mellors), and there are several (mostly fully-clothed) sex scenes, but there is little in the way of sensationalism, as odd as that may sound.
Lady Chatterley's relationships with both her husband, Clifford (Eugene O'Hare) and her lover, gamekeeper Mellors, are tenderly drawn, with a sweetness and real sense of love and affection at their heart - although the characterisation of some of the supporting characters is a little less fleshed out.
What this play gets really right is the emotion of the relationships and the real sense of Lady Chatterley's struggle to stay loyal to her husband whilst also falling in love with another man.
One of the central storylines, the one that forms the impetus for her to have an affair in the first place, is whether or not she will become pregnant in order to give her husband an heir that he can't provide himself. Yet, in a play that emphasises her sense of romantic love and shows her trying to find her 'place' in the world, her feelings about the possibility of pregnancy or motherhood are never really explored. We don't know if she feels duty bound to have a child, whether she would like one, whether she really doesn't want to have one or anything else. It's a curious omission in a play that deals so clearly with feelings and relationships.
The story is developed against the backdrop of the country coming to terms with the impact of World War I. There are some pertinent political points raised, but this strand disappears as the play goes on and is never fully realised.
Laura Hopkins' set design is stark, yet beautiful - forsaking the use of flats or other large-scale constructions for a stripped-back stage, with the curtain separating back from front and a small number of pieces of furniture, revealed by the pulling away of dust sheets. Flowers are strewn throughout the play to mark the different seasons - a touch that was really effective, connecting very closely to one of the central and most touching scenes of the play, where Lady Chatterley and Mellors adorn each other's naked bodies with flowers.
Whilst the physical set is sparse, musical director David Osmond and Sound Designer Andrea J Cox create a soundscape that effectively acts as scenery. The use of a piano (played by Osmond) and other sounds - particularly a typewriter and running water - illustrate not only the sounds occurring in particular locations, but Lady Chatterley's emotions and thoughts.
The pacing and tone of this production are a little uneven. Act One is far too long at around an hour and a half, and it takes a leisurely stroll through events (Mellors isn't introduced until fairly late on in the act, for example). Act Two, by contrast, has fewer significant events in it - and many of those that drive the plot forward are rushed through or narrated rather than shown.
The script is full of double entendres, but the serious tone makes it difficult to know whether or not these are intentional, so there were a number of nervous titters from an audience that didn't know if it had permission to laugh at these points in proceedings.
Although this is a production that could do with a little attention to its pacing and tone, it's still a worthwhile watch, with some great performances, especially from the leads, and a play that puts the heart of the story at the centre, rather than offering nudge-nudge wink-wink titillation.
by Roger Foss
The f-word. The c-word. Obscenities. Entwined loins reaching mutual orgasm in dark woods. DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a frank exploration of sex, nature and class tensions. The story of passion between a wealthy frustrated wife and her impotent husband’s gamekeeper, it brought it, and the author, steamy notoriety.
Adapter and director Phillip Breen comes unblushingly close to conveying the novel’s still-explosive full-frontal eroticism. But he’s clearly more concerned with – and more successful at – exploring the tenderness of the flowering sexual contact between Constance Chatterly and earthy Mellors, whether they are fumbling their first sweaty encounter, garlanding their “Lady Jane and John Thomas” in pubic forget-me-nots, or cavorting around the forest in pouring rain on a stage set that’s mostly as bare as their bodies.
Nevertheless, as erotically tender and as challenging as it is, and often played out in short scenes with atmospheric piano accompaniment and the sound of bird’s twittering, the production tends to downplay, or at least only allow us to glimpse fleetingly the post-First World War social unease going on in the background, especially in Sir Clifford Chatterley’s nearby pit village.
Still, the unromantic gender-power themes in the book seem as trailblazing today on stage as they were on the page in the 1920s. And Hedydd Dylan and Jonah Russell convey more than a little tenderness – and nakedness – as co-joined unconventional lovers facing an deeply unhappy conventional ending, even at times when this achingly slow production feels like John Thomas saying good-night to Lady Jane, a little droopingly.
The Left Lion (Nottingham)
by James Walker
D.H Lawrence wrote eight full length plays during his short life, as well as two incomplete works. Only two of these scripts made it onto the stage during his lifetime. George Bernard Shaw would comment “I wish I could write such dialogue. With mine I always hear the sound of the typewriter.” These sentiments were endorsed in Geoffrey Trease’s biography The Phoenix and the Flame (1970), where Trease noted Lawrence’s ear for dialogue ran throughout his work. This “ear for dialogue” was superbly brought to life in Phillip Breen’s bold adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, performed at the Sheffield Crucible.
Lawrence has been unfairly represented in the media as the poster boy for smut. His novels, poems and paintings all experienced censorship with some of his books being burnt. No wonder he cherished the image of a phoenix rising from the flames. Simplistic readings of his work have led to moral panics and have been used to subvert the real essence of his work – that modernity, largely represented by the dehumanising aspects of industrialisation, has knocked man off his natural course and led to a disconnection with his immediate environment. Given this, I was intrigued to see what version of Lawrence would come though on the stage, particularly as there are three versions of the novel that made it possible for everyone to swear more freely.
Phillip Breen’s adaptation firmly draws the audience to the novel’s original title, Tenderness. The focus here is on relationships, in all of their various forms. Yes, there’s lots of sex on stage but this is treated sensitively, capturing the passion, humour, and awkwardness of bodies clattering together.
The adaptation starts on a barren stage with Lady C (Hedydd Dylan) removing rags covering up pieces of furniture and props. She will be removing much more as the play progresses. This is a minimal set so that our complete focus is on the narrative. When we are later taken out to Mellors (Jonah Russell) hut in the forest, flowers are spread in circles around the stage to signify a new space. A pianist (David Osmond) draws out themes of tenderness through some beautiful pieces of music that help enhance the mood and there are some noisy interludes in the form of bawdy songs from the 1920s such as Masculine Women! Masculine Men! (“Masculine women, feminine men/Which is the rooster? Which is the hen?” “Knickers and trousers baggy and wide/Nobody knows who’s walking inside”)
When we first encounter Clifford Chatterley (Eugene O’Hara) he’s being washed by Lady C on a table. This reminded me of those other great Eastwood plays where women wash the bodies of dead husbands killed down the pit. James Moran recently noted in The Theatre of D.H Lawrence that “Lawrence gives domestic drudgery a kind of dignity by paying close attention to it, with all of its rhythms and conflicts.” Lady C may not suffer the drudgery of those living in poverty within mining communities, but it’s a nod to domestic drudgery all the same.
As Clifford is already in a wheelchair we don’t get the back story of him as an able bodied man heading off to war. This works well. Clifford is also given a more compassionate portrayed than in the novel. There’s a brilliant scene towards the end when he turns to his nurse Ivy Bolton (Rachel Sanders) for comfort. You get a real sense of both his physical and emotional impotence when he attempts to kiss her and instead buries his head between her breasts. He is like a child in desperate need of affection, rather than an adult after a meaningful relationship.
Lady C is accurately represented as a sexually progressive individual, getting it on with the Irish playwright Michaelis (Will Irvine) early on. This is an important part of the novel as it enables Lady C to recognise that Michaelis is a slave to success like the rest of her inner circle, and unable to give her the emotional and intellectual satisfaction she needs. In this, and other areas, the director has been spot on with what he’s kept and left out. Likewise, Breen has wisely shifted Mellors comments about his ex-wife Bertha Coutts ‘bringing herself off’ and given these lines to Michaelis. Breen has also wisely cut out Lawrence’s odd descriptions of female masturbation: "the old rampers have beaks between their legs, and they tear at you with it till you're sick. Self! Self! Self! All self!... tear, tear, tear, as if she had no sensation in her except in the top of her beak.”
Mellors and Lady C spend quite a lot of time on stage naked and this is absolutely vital. It makes them vulnerable, imperfect, awkward and innocent. This enabled for some fun scenes, such as the naming of genitals (John Thomas) which brought great laughter from the crowd, flashing, and the placing of flowers over body parts in what felt like a pagan ritual. They even pull off a triple sex move without a hint of embarrassment, and have time to do circuits of the stage naked in the rain.
Throughout the production tenderness oozes on the stage. We feel the frustrations of partners poorly matched and are left with the hope that they may be able to find a resolution. The love Lady C and Mellors have for each other, as well as the growing bond between Clifford and Ivy, is superbly juxtaposed against scenes of riots and demonstrations as the outside world protests for better working conditions in a post war world. It’s no wonder Lawrence found sanctuary in the intimate silence of two bodies.
The Times (behind paywall)
by Ann Treneman
North West End
by Lottie Davis-Browne
D.H Lawrence’s controversial classic was first published privately in 1928 in Italy and in 1929 in France and Australia. An unexpurgated edition was not published openly in the UK until 1960, and became a banned book when it was the subject of a watershed obscenity trail against the publisher Penguin Books. Penguin won the case, and quickly sold three million copies.
The book soon became notorious for its explicit descriptions of sex and the use of the then unprintable words. The story is allegedly based on Lawrence’s own unhappy domestic life, and he took inspiration for the settings of the book Eastwood, Nottingham, where he grew up.
This dazzling new adaptation, with nothing left out, brings Lawrence’s powerful tale of sexual awakening and class conflict to the stage. Director Philip Breen brings this bold adaptation to Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre until Saturday 15th October; this adaptation rediscovers that tenderness of the romance between Connie Chatterley and Oliver Mellors.
In the aftermath of the Great War, Lady Chatterley finds herself growing ever more distant from her husband Clifford. Feeling isolated and neglected, she embarks on a passionate affair with gamekeeper Oliver Mellors.
Other topics covered (it’s not all about the sexual context - honest!) include the class difference between the couple, a subject highlighted in the novel which is the unfair dominance of intellectuals over the working class. Connie is frustrated both mentally and sexually since her husband Clifford’s war injury left him wheelchair bound and she craves the touch of a man.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this adaptation as the only other version I have watched is the BBC adaptation from 2015 which not only stripped back (no pun intended) the strong language and nudity. I was half expecting the same from this production however the performance mirrored the book, and although I am far from being prudish at first this stunned me slightly as I honestly wasn't expecting it! The audience were deadly silent as if they were anticipating what was to come and this just added to drama of the performance. At one points I was almost too scared to take a breath in as I feared everyone would hear me and heads would turn as you could literally hear a pin drop during the build up to the first nude scene. By Act Two the audience was somewhat more relaxed and after a while the naked scenes seemed barely noticeable and the audience were more engrossed in the storyline at this point.
With a cast of just eight - three of which play multiple parts, all work wonderfully well together and cover the storyline of the novel with ease, however I did feel in parts it was rather slow in tempo and rather sluggish for the average theatre goer and certainly did not run for the suggested 2hours and 36 minutes as advertised, running at least ten minutes over that time.
I loved Eugene O’Hare as Sir Clifford Chatterley, a man full of self-pity and loathing. Hedydd Dylan as Lady Chatterley and Jonah Russell as her lover Oliver Mellors are both perfectly cast. Mellors as Northern working class Gamekeeper Mellors, with his trusted sidekick John Thomas, and Dylan as the middle class woman longing to fulfil her sexual needs.
What's On Stage
by Ron Simpson
The advertising promises that the Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre production of Lady Chatterley's Lover will get behind the scandal – and it certainly does that. Phillip Breen's adaptation of DH Lawrence's novel doesn't shy away from the celebrated obscenities of the original, but neither does it pepper the text with them: the nudity and once-offensive language are handled skilfully, introduced at the appropriate times without coyness or sensationalism.
Lawrence's preoccupations – with class conflict, the traumatising effects of the First World War, personal freedom and the perilous future of our nation – are dealt with seriously. The importance of nature and the passing of the seasons is presented in the strewing or gathering of blossoms for each season. The adaptation is equally true to the original in terms of plot, with inevitable omissions and an earlier final cut-off point giving an ambiguous ending.
The opening stages of Breen's production are brilliantly stylish. Before the start Laura Hopkins' design consists simply of a curtain at the back and various articles of furniture shrouded in covers like a great house shut up for the winter. As they are uncovered, Sir Clifford's wheelchair is revealed, as is a piano. As the story of the unhappy Chatterley marriage emerges, brief scenes give snapshots of their life and David Osmond raids the classical piano repertoire for mood-enhancing pieces.
Sir Clifford's war wound, his impotence and his success as a playwright, his wife's hint at dalliance with the even more popular playwright Michaelis, Sir Clifford's humiliating suggestion that, to preserve the aristocratic line, his wife should bear a child by another man – all these are told allusively. The often bare set and the clean lines of Natasha Chivers' lighting give an appropriate Art Deco look. Breen manages to suggest a slow pace – these are people to whom life is happening in its own time – but the short scenes cover narrative ground at fair speed.
Unfortunately the meat of the novel can't be dealt with so readily. Mellors, the gamekeeper, appears and there are solid narrative blocks to handle – and perhaps rather too much philosophy for the average theatregoer. Individual scenes are well done, but the tempo slows and the performance is, frankly, too long (incidentally, at least 10 minutes longer than the precisely calculated 2 hours 36 minutes of the theatre's website).
A cast of eight, three playing multiple parts, work well together in what is a very truthful interpretation despite the longueurs. Hedydd Dylan's brittle Lady Chatterley is always sympathetic and convincing, her growing liberation completely credible. Jonah Russell's Mellors is similarly understated and believable. Sir Clifford is more difficult to establish as a consistent character, but Eugene O'Hare manages the aristocratic contempt, the self-pity and the growing childishness well enough, and Will Irvine's four-role stint includes a clever turn as Michaelis, supposedly a satire on George Bernard Shaw.
by John Murphy
Over 50 years since it helped invent sexual intercourse (according to Philip Larkin anyway), DH Lawrence’s most famous work still holds the power to fascinate. When Jed Mercurio adapted the novel for the BBC last year, there were complaints that the sex, nudity and language had been toned down – that’s certainly not an accusation you can level at Philip Breen’s stage version, where the leading couple stay completely naked for a good chunk of the second half.
Yet there’s more to Lady Chatterley’s Lover than sex – which seems odd, considering how inextricably linked the subject is to the source material. Breen has produced a reasonably faithful version of Lawrence’s text, throwing in references to class tensions and attitudes to conventional masculinity. The language that was one of the triggers for the infamous court case is also present and correct, with a liberal scattering of ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’. In this company, Mellors referring to his penis as his John Thomas seems almost quaint.
It’s certainly not a play to come to for cheap thrills however – Breen’s production is slow, stately and almost as tentative as the leading couple’s slow journey towards each other. Laura Hopkins’ set design is achingly stylish, with Hedydd Dylan’s titular Lady entering the stage to pull off dust sheets revealing various items such as her husband’s wheelchair and a piano. The air of sad yearning and latent unhappiness that permeates the production is present from the start as we see Constance helping her husband from his wheelchair to bathe him.
Those unfamiliar with the source material won’t be in any danger of becoming confused – all the relevant points are dealt with, from Sir Clifford’s war wound and resultant impotence, his desperation for an heir, Constance’s affair with a rather highly strung Irish playwright before Oliver Mellors enters the stage. Jonah Russell bears an uncanny resemblance to Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and he has the same skill in portraying emotionally distant men – there’s certainly a chemistry between himself and Dylan, although the initial sex scenes seem somewhat mechanical and strangely unerotic.
That could be due to the rather stilted pace or a desire to replicate the more restrained times of that particular era, but it does mean that the play is a bit of a slog sometimes, especially when your first half clocks in at a marathon 90 minutes. It’s livened up though by an interlude which manages to be both simultaneously comic and tragic, in which Sir Clifford’s electric scooter fails to work properly, and he has to rely on the younger man to get him moving again – no doubt one of the few times where an electric scooter has been used as a metaphor for male virility.
The pace picks up in the second half, especially when Constance and Mellors drop their guard (and clothes) to festoon each other with flowers and lay bare their feelings towards each other, before the inevitable emotional turmoil bubbles up. Breen certainly has a knack for eye-catching imagery – the last image we see of a distraught Sir Clifford, crying as he gropes his nurse is a haunting one – but the distinct lack of energy does hamper the production somewhat. There are a few too many moments where you’re hoping for an injection of theatrical Viagra to liven things up.
by Charles Hutchinson
Lady Chatterley's Lover, English Touring Theatre/Sheffield Theatres, at York Theatre Royal, until tomorrow. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk WERE you wondering when you could next see a Phillip Breen production after his epic staging of the York Minster Mystery Plays this summer?
The answer is right here, right now, at York Theatre Royal, where English Touring Theatre/Sheffield Theatres are on tour with writer-director Breen's new adaptation of THAT book, the 1928 DH Lawrence one that lead actress Hedydd Dylan recalls her grandfather keeping in a safe as it was banned (until 1960).
This is the second literary tome deemed difficult to transfer from page to stage to make its journey to the new Theatre Royal auditorium this year. Bryony Lavery's Brideshead Revisited focused on the brittle relationship of middle-class Charles and posh Julia; Breen throws the spotlight on the tenderness at the heart of Lady Chatterley's love affair with Mellors, the new gamekeeper.
In contrast to his Mystery Plays, he favours minimalist staging by designer Laura Hopkins (no woods, sparse furniture) and an opening burst of short scenes that begin in winter four years on from impotent Sir Clifford Chatterley (Eugene O'Hare) being invalided from the Great War. Those scenes establish character traits, circumstance, the social order and more besides, recounting the frustrated Lady C's fling with an Irish playwright and nervous breakdown in a stultifying marriage. A pianist (David Osmond) in the corner acts as a musical Greek chorus throughout.
Jonah Russell's Mellors appears to be living at a different pace in the woods, almost in slow motion at first, to emphasise the contrast, and as the seasons change so does the relationship of Mellors and Dylan's Connie. Sex scenes on stage can be awkward, especially for the audience, and while a rug on a hard floor is hardly ideal, nevertheless Russell and Dylan combine the explicit and the tasteful, naked bodies, flowers and all.
What's more, it isn't only about the sex. Tenderness, Lawrence's alternative title, holds sway in Breen's account, but he lets us see the changing world too, without Lawrence's heavy-handed politicking.
British Theatre Guide (York)
by James Ballands
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is one of the most controversial books ever written. First published privately in Italy in 1928, the text was not made available in the UK until 1960, where it became the focus of a watershed obscenity trial. Within three months of being acquitted, the novel sold more than three million copies.
Although Lawrence’s novel has become notorious for its sexual explicitness and liberal use of profanity, this reputation is ultimately misleading. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not a piece of pornography but rather a touching love story between a working class man and an upper class woman set in the class-bound milieu of post-WWI England. The fact that Lawrence had originally considered calling the novel Tenderness is highly revealing.
In the space of two and a half hours, writer and director Phillip Breen delivers a faithful albeit truncated version of the source novel. Constance (Hedydd Dylan) is the young, frustrated wife of Sir Clifford Chatterley (Eugene O’Hare) who has been paralysed from the waist down due to an injury he received in the First World War. The emotional and physical estrangement between husband and wife leads Constance to pursue an affair with their handsome gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors (Jonah Russell). As the lovers’ feelings deepen over time, this infidelity threatens to overturn both their lives.
Sex scenes are notoriously difficult to do well on stage because the results are often cringe-inducing. This is not the case with Breen’s production, which manages to stay true to the transgressive spirit of Lawrence’s original novel without being gratuitous. The love scenes, performed fully-clothed, are not merely titillating because the two leads play them as the awkward, desperate fumblings of two lost souls.
Breen does not shy away from dramatising the most infamous part of Lawrence’s novel, in which the naked lovers thread flowers in each other’s pubic hair whilst playfully referring to the wedding of their genitals (‘Lady Jane’ and ‘John Thomas’). The nudity does not feel exploitative because the scene successfully conveys Lawrence’s belief in personal and sexual freedom.
The effectiveness of the love story is largely due to the quality of the two central performers. As Constance, Hedydd Dylan is convincingly brittle in the early scenes and overwhelmed by love in the later ones. Jonah Russell gives an understated performance as Mellors, a simple man besieged by violent passions.
The rest of the cast are also strong. In the tricky role of Sir Clifford, Eugene O’Hara conveys both the character’s haughty superiority and his petulant self-pity. Will Irvine plays his four small roles with skill, and he is amusingly despicable as the Irish playwright Michaelis—Constance’s first adulterous lover—who chastises her for taking too long to climax. Rachel Sanders is pleasingly inscrutable as Sir Clifford’s nurse.
Laura Hopkins’s stage designs are highly effective. The play opens, for example, with dust sheets being removed from the furniture in the Chatterleys’ home, and there is a clear sense of life beginning again after the horrors of the First World War. The passing of the seasons is cleverly conveyed through the scattering and gathering of flowers on the stage.
The sparseness of the production design is enhanced by the clarity of Natasha Chivers’s lighting and Andrea J Cox’s evocative sound design.
I have some reservations about the production. By choosing to focus on the central love story, the political dimension of Lawrence’s novel becomes muted. Although Breen offers us fleeting glimpses into the social unease of post-war England, the rural mining setting of the original text is largely absent. Also, the brevity of certain scenes, particularly in the first half, means that the production occasionally has a staccato feeling.
Breen’s production offers the audience a tender love story, movingly told, and successfully dramatises many of the key issues in Lawrence’s infamous novel.
by Sam Bennett
This is a choppy rendition, with short scenes, that propels us through the plot. For me (impatient, a fan of five minute meetings, and always eager for a story to progress) this works – it keeps me alert, it prevents me from drifting off, I understand what’s happening.
Throughout the play – which marks the centenary of the Somme – are frequent reminders that it is set in the aftermath of World War One, that the tragedy of the Great War lingered long after its conclusion. As Eugene O’Hare as Sir Clifford Chatterley taps away on his typewriter the sounds produced are like those of gunshots, denoting the premise that, as a character wheelchair-bound by the war, he still hears the noises of its weaponry.
Further, the cage Oliver Mellors (portrayed by Jonah Russell) keeps birds in does appear coffin-like. The stage also often finds itself littered with flowers, giving the impression of a burial ground. Death and grief is regularly symbolised, communicating the fact it engulfs the world Lady Chatterley’s Lover is set in.
Lawrence’s novel was banned in Britain until 1960. “The reasons given for the censorship of Lady Chatterley’s Lover include Lawrence’s frank and controversial portrayal of sex” writes Dan Rebellato. There is actually something very charming about this production’s depiction of sex. The lovemaking between Constance Chatterley (Hedydd Dylan) and Mellors is short and clumsy, otherwise known as realistic – this is its appeal. The way the team behind this show present sex is also no accident, it’s deliberately counter-Hollywood, as you can see in a recent interview with Hedydd Dylan here.
While Act One is a tad flat in comparison to the emotionally rich second half of the current ETT and Sheffield Theatres offering, this is a pacey yet coherent, and at times darkly humerous, presentation of Lawrence’s novel which beats just reading SparkNotes any night of the week.
Fringe Review (Brighton)
by Simon Jenner
Phillip Breen’s both director and adaptor of D. H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover which comes to Theatre Royal Brighton through English Touring Theatre in association with Sheffield Theatre’s Crucible Lyceum Studio. It’s designed by Laura Hopkins and lit rather beautifully by Natasha Chivers. Andrea J Cox’s deft sound design consists of evocative bird calls and radio announcements. David Osmond’s on-stage presence as pianist and arranger is a highlight.
This has proved a season of misty-filmed novels turned into plays, occasionally strikingly successful though more often the narrative itself defeats the most energetic director and designer.
Lawrence’s novel looks sexy on paper; it’s worked on film. It’s not however one of his best; its wish-fulfilment lacks dramatic tensions an adaptor can readily draw on, except in the way films absorb novels with atmosphere and cinematography. Theatre needs something else.
Here adaptor doubles as director. Breen’s vastly experienced; perhaps here he’s too close to this obdurate un-dramatic material. Hopkins’ design too – perhaps best-suited to the studio space it began in – seems hamstrung: awkward use of a diaphanous silver backdrop curtain through much of the play compromises felicitous touches elsewhere. We’re festooned with flowers, chairs and the occasional gramophone with trumpet, as well as motorised wheelchairs. There’s a strikingly intimate use of flowers that points their symbolism as well as their names, in one delicate erotic scene. At the end of the first half the curtains are finally part-drawn to reveal a bed, simply dragged on. It seems a reveal and an opportunity lost, since there’s mere blackness behind, though used effectively later.
With playing time already ten minutes shorter than billed, there’s no doubt some moody Lawrentian pauses have been speeded up – this production could still lose twenty minutes.
The plot’s as diaphanous as the curtains but this version does usefully remind us of the first lover Lady Chatterley (Heydydd Dylan) takes after frank discussions between her and her war-incapacitated mine-owning husband suggest he’s willing to compromise and let her lead a sexual life he can’t give her, and produce a child he’ll acknowledge, so long as the father’s of good breeding. This theme ripples throughout the production, rightly given more prominence than usual.
This is the dramatist Michaelis, one of the cameos taken by Will Irvine who does a spirited job of bringing this awkward insecure writer and lover to life, obsessed that women take too long to come. Clifford Chatterley’s dislike of him isn’t wholly misguided. His wife Connie is pining, her family feel she needs to get away – her first gratuitous nude scene comes shiftless when she’s about to be medically examined, which upstages the tender end of Act One when nudity is de rigeur.
Having discussed more about progeny with Clifford Connie discovers Oliver Mellors the new gamekeeper, by wishing to share his cottage space for relaxation and then his bed. There’s much emphasis here on the original title Lawrence gave his novel, ‘Tenderness’. It’s well brought out, though on occasion at the expense of primal feeling. We’re treated too to a Venetian interlude, a flurry of letters, a return and decision.
What enlivens this production are three things. First the on-stage performance of David Osmond, who plays some slow movements of early Beethoven Sonatas, with Schubert’s Marche Militaire and Impromptus, underlining the lovers’ tender fright. In an exquisite moment, he riffs too on Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude when an expensive effect, a shower of rain gouts down: a notable coup adding cost and a few upstage umbrellas to an otherwise low-tech set.
Second, the social scenes add sometimes heft, sometimes busyness. The mining disputes with policemen freight Lawrence’s deep socialist insights of Clifford’s class and their intransigence impacting savagely then and later on his own community. It’s an able enough fleshing of Clifford’s make-up and augments his speeches on continuity, but alas these strike-scenes go nowhere. Lawrence’s backdrop wasn’t germane to his thrust here.
Connie’s family however are a fine distraction, her huffy father wanting only it seems the best sex life for her, is one of three roles taken by Ciaran McIntyre; it’s a pity the plot couldn’t have used him more. Alice Selwyn as Connie’s war-bereaved sister Alice is spirited pushy and conventional when it comes to Mellors.
Most of all the Venetian scene and the singing party erupting where Aretha Ayeh with several small parts takes her stand as a singer amidst a jazz band. This is delightful, and emerges out of that blackdrop beautifully lit and brilliantly coloured, more so even than the brief enactment in dumb show of Michaelis’ play earlier.
However the palm must go to Clifford’s Eugene O’Hare and nurse and widow Ivy Bolton, in Rachel Sanders’ exquisite rendering of a woman who remembers the touch of her husband twenty-three years dead: here you get a sliver of the thrilling early Lawrence, in her tender colloquy with Connie, where Dylan enjoys true interaction. Sanders too takes on increasing duties as Clifford’s nurse, and since O’Hare’s already proved he can generate true, strangulated emotion with terrific feeling confronting Dylan’s Connie, his responses to Sanders, ultimately breaking down in a beautiful upstage spotlight, is heartrending but also healing.
In Breen’s hands there’s not just one set of lovers here, however partly incapacitated: indeed there’s deep feeling released in this couple’s performance. The decision taken to highlight this is treasurable. One wonders if Clifford – tortured, typing, refusing to be typecast as war-emasculated cripple and even hoping to revive – is the hero. Breen makes a fine case for it.
Dylan’s interactions with Jonah Russell’s Oliver Mellors are still crucial though, and the pace of this production whilst emphasising tenderness and a sweet endearing awkwardness at first, drains their encounters of urgency, mutual lust, and dangerous transgression, as well as scant danger in the trajectory of their love.
There’s a hint he resents Connie’s more overt (even scheming) desire for a child than we’re used to, and not solely him for himself and sexual pleasure. It’s not explored with any perilous anger though and fizzles out. Only at the end with Mellors beaten up by locals enraged at his estranged wife’s wild accusations does he sulk enough to endanger anything. He’s at least allowed to articulate his singular vision: it could have scalded us more.
Russell brings a brooding stillness but no chance to edge his simmering pain: a failed marriage and class anger lend furious motive enough. He does however breathe tenderness and that’s the other discovery of this production. The normally excellent Dylan glints a joyousness that just needs urgency to fan it.
The lovers are fetching but neither rippling not earthily voluptuous enough to lend the novel’s ground-breaking shock and sex to this production. This necessarily improves in pace, and (unusually for an adaptation where it tends to work overtime) is rendered a tad static with a design seemingly framed for something more intimate; where it could work extremely well. This is ETT after all, and a certain copper bottom’s expected.
It’s a production that will grow in stature, where we must forget the accustomed sole focus on Mellors and Connie, and just as equally hope their own voltage is given more chance to leap.
by Gary Bills-Geddes
Malvern treated to a definitive Lady Chatterley
Full marks to Phillip Breen for arguably being the first director to present this literary classic as the writer probably intended. You could almost feel the presence of D H Lawrence’s ghost, rejoicing as the clichés invariably associated with his work were blasted out of the sky like so many of Sir Clifford Chatterley’s pheasants. Most plays about the class-struck lovers ritually present them in the language of tabloid headlines – ‘Rich bitch in woodland romps withrandy gamekeeper,’ that sort of thing. But not Phillip Breen. His Oliver Mellors is a painfully sensitive individual, rendered fragile by the trauma of war and the rigid, joyless class tyranny of the times.
Jonah Russell as Mellors perfectly conveys the contradictions of a man whose job as a gamekeeper must by definition entail the destruction as well as the preservation of life. Hedydd Dylan’s portrayal as a woman torn between desire and duty is achingly moving. The ringing tone of her biological alarm clock has reached a deafening pitch and Mellors is more than ready to answer the call. This is usually the stage when most directors give free rein to their own barely-disguised fantasies and turn the whole thing into a soft porn flesh-fest. Mercifully, Phillip Breen instead concentrates on creating a multi-levelled tragedy in which the ultimate climax is one of heartbreak rather than passion.
Meanwhile, the wretched Sir Clifford (Eugene O’Hare) can only look on helplessly from his invalid’s wheelchair, as the long shadows of war inexorably turn his life to total darkness. Breen’s superb adaptation marks a milestone in the history of a notorious story that has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons since it was written in the 1920s. This definitive version should not be missed.
by Eric Page
I’d forgotten what a powerful story Chatterley was and had relegated it to the back of my mind in the slightly naughty but nice category, without any real vibrant urgency or relevance to how we live today, a kind of nudy naughty Downton Abbey. This pristine new production adapted and directed by Phillip Breen surprised me.
This was superb acting and the evening opened and closed in the same simple but griping way. The cast is uniformly brilliant, well cast and engage with a fluid passion that keeps the narrative tension up through the evening but allows a real feeling of the flow of time. With a simple elegant minimalistic set which gave us the essence of the period rather than a heavy reproduction feel this allowed the emotional story to shine though. Breen’s using of the social changes being wrought along side the developing relationship between Chatterley and Mellor’s, is as minimal as the set, but used to highlight their power or lack of and also shows them as characters grasping for a new deal from the world after the shattering conclusions of empire, privilege and the industrial revolution has riven folk into bossed and boss’s. The heaving social change is back-dropped, but like the bird song in this production, all-pervasive and telling.
Phew, all this and they’ve not even got down to it, it’s a surprisingly in-depth analysis done with the lightest touch and the first half sped past.
The nudity and sex scenes are done with a deft grace as innocent and passionate as is deserving to these two tender lovers as they open their damaged selves to the possibility of another turn on the wheel of life, love and sexual relationships. Through the development of their relationship we see them challenge and change, embrace new radical ideas of the self and test them out, with constant ultra polite reassurance and seeking of affirmation with each other. It’s terribly terribly British and once you’ve got used to the Oh’Ecky Thump vs. the Talking Like Type Writers accents, it all settles down into something really rather good.
The book, famously banned for being obscene is opened and pared down here like a delicate flower, pressed into its perfume and essence, but it’s still a challenging analysis of what happens when patriarchy, entitlement and brutality are challenged by honesty, trust and tenderness. Tenderness was Lawrence’s working title for Lady Chatterley and with it’s superb ending, as low-key, understated and beautifully wrought as the rest of the play – and the acting – this was a delightful ending to a wonderful night out.
All the characters are given equal weight to their emotional word and although the gravitational nexus is Chatterley and Mellor we see and hear their worlds and those of the people they live and share their lives and spaces with. Complex, honest and with passion these shattered bruised people, all having been lost and broken by the horrors of the Great War trying with as much British stiff upper lip to move on, and make the world a better place.
The audience paused slightly before giving the cast a superb applause, it’s that pause they do when then realise they’ve been witness to a seriously good play, with some excellent acting and now it’s all over and they have to go back to the real world.
I walked into the Theatre Royal, slightly cynical, wondering why I was going to see a period romp and left with my heart open, my mind engaged and the thought that hope is aboard in the world still.
Hedydd Dylan as Lady Chatterley and Jonah Russell as Oliver Mellor’s spend a lot of the time naked in the play, it’s entirely without prurience, natural, nude and dignified and it’s pleasant to see such a torridly abused story refined to something far more sensual, experimental and human.
Well done all round, English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Lyceum Studios should be congratulated on the quality of this sublime production.
by Andrew Gifford
At this time of remembrance, D. H Lawrence's classic examination of living with the physical and emotional scars of war is perfectly poignant.
There are many levels to this famous book, which unpeels the layers between social class and emotion. This adaptation plays out these ideas with resounding clarity. The simple set gives a flavour of the 1920s and serves to enhance the performances.
The action flits between a manor house and the woods, and sound is used as a vehicle for these narrative jumps; birdsong, also denoting the seasons; a woodpecker drumming in spring, the chafing of a pheasant, a summer cuckoo. It is wonderfully transporting and reminds you of the difference between television and theatre (where senses and imagination are a requisite).
The cast is strong throughout, with convincing portrayals of passion and anguish by the leads. Of course, you can't ignore the sexual aspect of this play, the book being banned for 30 years for "indecency". There is nothing vulgar about the nudity here, though – in fact it is one of director Phillip Breen's primary ideas to show the naked body in a way that is "vulnerable, imperfect, beautiful, absurd".
Sex is not overbearing in this thoughtful adaptation, whose subtleties uncover the many relevant themes of an often misjudged book – the working title of which was Tenderness
by Christine Stock
Love, passion and nudity are on the menu at the Playhouse this week as DH Lawrence’s famously controversial book is brought to the stage.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was written in 1928 and banned in Britain for the next 30 years. But it’s not all about sex. ‘Tenderness’ was the original title for the book, which I think suits this play better and would perhaps have made the book a lot less contentious. Constance Chatterley becomes a carer to her husband after he was paralyzed during the First World War. She starts to feel desperately lonely, unhappy and trapped in the marriage, longing for a love and tenderness that her husband cannot provide. She finds the passion, love and sexual freedom that she is craving with gamekeeper Mellors. And with this freedom she finds herself again.
Director Phillip Breen projects Constance’s emotional journey through the changing of the seasons. The predominantly short scenes are intermingled by the turning on and off of stage lights. Flowers laid on stage and birdsong audio create a romantic ambience for the outdoor liaisons between Constance and Mellors. Throughout the production pianist David Osmond creates the mood with melodic tunes. The initial nudity prompted a few awkward coughs among the audience, admittedly my friend and I shared a little snigger, but there is nothing pornographic about the scenes. In fact, there is a kind of innocence about it as Constance and Mellors overcome their shyness by running naked in the rain like children.
Eugene O’Hare depicted the frustrations of wheelchair-bound Clifford Chatterley, while Hedydd Dylan’s sensual portrayal of Constance Chatterley is most laudable. Praise also to Jonah Russell as the rugged, yet tender Oliver Mellors and Rachel Sanders as nursemaid Mrs Bolton.
Cambridge Evening News
by Jude Clarke
With my jaded, 21st century, seen-it-all perspective, I wasn’t, if I’m honest, expecting too much from Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The play, Phillip Breen’s adaptation of DH Lawrence’s famously controversial 1928 novel, would, I assumed, seem rather tame in an age when sex is all over our TV screens and the internet, and four letter words are never far from our ears. So it came as a brilliant surprise to find that Lawrence’s story could still resonate. Profoundly.
It helped that the small cast were all wonderful. Hedydd Dylan as Constance Chatterley was bold, brave, and intensely moving, perfectly capturing the troubled wife’s dilemma, the lover’s passion and the woman’s longing for family. Jonah Russell’s Mellors, meanwhile, was everything you’d expect from the gamekeeper/taciturn lover. Blossoming as his relationship with Lady Chatterley developed, from monosyllabic near recluse to a tender lover playfully bedecking both of their naked bodies with flowers during assignations, the love between these two characters was central to the play, overshadowing the raunch factor of the many nude and sexual scenes.
Another surprise was the political aspects of the story. Both in terms of gender politics (Constance felt like a thoroughly modern heroine, empowered in her sexual and reproductive choices and decisions) but also the backdrop of industrial unrest as the miners employed by Lord Chatterley (played with a brilliant, tangible and edgy undercurrent of frustration and rage throughout by Eugene O’Hare) went on strike, expecting a better life after the trials of the Great War, the shadows of which hung over the action like a pall.
So this Lady Chatterley’s Lover was perhaps everything you would hope for from an adaption, and then a bit more.
Sexy? Yes, certainly. The chemistry between the two lead characters was brilliantly evoked and bravely portrayed.
But - in Constance Chatterley’s central dilemmas (loyalty or lust, marriage or motherhood, which man to love) and the heartbreak that she, her unfortunate husband and her lover all go through over the course of the two hour play – also heartrending, intense, moving and ultimately rather beautiful.
I wasn’t expecting that.
Hedydd Dylan as Constance and Jonah Russell as Mellors. Photo: Mark Douet
Eugene O'Hare as Clifford Chatterley. Photo: Mark Douet
Rachel Sanders as Mrs Bolton. Photo: Mark Douet
Alice Selwyn as Hilda. Photo: Mark Douet
Will Irvine as the Trades Unionist. Photo: Mark Douet
Ciaran McIntrye as Sir Malcolm Reid. Photo: Mark Douet
Hedydd Dylan as Constance and Jonah Russell as Mellors. Photo: Mark Douet
Jonah Russell as Mellors. Photo: Mark Douet
The Company. Photo: Mark Douet
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