Writer: Roman de Fruscan from the book by D. H.Lawrence
Director: Tina Hofman
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Life certainly seems to have dealt Clifford, Lord Chatterley, a poor hand. Injured in the Great War, he has also lost his elder brother. His beautiful young wife has needs he feels he is unable to satisfy as a cripple. Desperate to ensure there is an heir, he suggests that she take a lover to enable her to fall pregnant, trusting her to choose a man entirely suitable for the task.
And so the young couple return to Ragby, the ancestral home of the Chatterleys. Connie, Lady Chatterley, is a free spirit, but Clifford surrounds himself with people like himself – the very worst examples of the priggish, pompous upper-class, all with a sense of entitlement and all looking down on the villagers who work the land and mine – they can have no appreciation of art in the way that people like us do, they think. Connie is at first bored and later rebellious, and it is this streak of rebellion that leads her to explore the grounds and make the acquaintance of Mellors, the initially uncommunicative gamekeeper whose wife has deserted him. It becomes clear that, despite Clifford’s assertion that he is a writer, Mellors is the man with the poetic and gentle soul and he and Connie discover a powerful attraction that neither can resist.
Meanwhile, in a quieter way, Clifford is gaining some contentment with Mrs Bolton, his nurse, with whom he is able to converse, play board games and read passages from his writing. He is also able to indulge in his penchant for lecturing about his vision of England as an upper-class Utopia.
Director Tina Hofman has drawn on her background in physical theatre to introduce several techniques to make her points about the class divide in early 20th Century England and the differences between the characters of the piece. Ingenious use of masks is especially effective in painting Clifford’s cronies as an amorphous mass which, coupled with extremely stylised movements and speech makes them quite deliberately two-dimensional; this contrasts very effectively with Connie’s feeling of being lost and her introspection as she seeks something more worthwhile. Similarly, the later juxtaposition of Clifford and Mrs Bolton, with Clifford pontificating at enormous length on one side of the stage, with the sensual writhings of Mellors and Connie on the other ensures we cannot miss the point that, even if Clifford were able-bodied, he would still be rather less of a man than Mellors. But there is a hint of self-indulgence – both of these set-pieces outstay their welcome, hammering home the points being made at the expense of slowing down the pace too much.
James Tanton’s Clifford, like his masked cronies, is somewhat two-dimensionally unpleasant. He seems to be a man permanently at war with those closest to him and full of self-pity. He makes it difficult for the audience to empathise with his predicament; one can certainly understand Connie’s need for more. Abigail Castleton’s Connie is entirely believable as a woman who needs more than intellectual love. She clearly demonstrates Connie’s internal strife and ultimate abandonment to passion. Marcus Fernando as Mellors displays gruffness, gentleness and charm. One cannot help but be on the side of Connie and him. Fernando’s performance is a tour-de-force – one can barely believe that he is also behind one of the masks as a particularly odious member of Clifford’s gang. Alison Jacques is sincere as Mrs Bolton, finding some fulfilment in serving Clifford’s needs, while Bryony Tebbutt, as Connie’s sister, Hilda, exhibits the hypocrisy of the age and class divide quite deliciously.
Mark Webster’s set design is simple with areas set aside for the Chatterleys’ home and Mellors’ cottage. Tim Moseley’s light and soundscape ensure we are always aware of who is where, even if the sound cues are sometimes lacking in subtlety.
Hofman has set out to deliver the messages that D. H. Lawrence aimed to convey in his book: messages about class, about the nobility of man and what living is truly all about. While not without fault, this is an effective retelling of the story, albeit one that would benefit from some judicious editing.
Runs until 3 February 2017 and on tour | Image: Contributed