Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Reviewer: Dan English

Adaptor and Director: Ciaran McConville

D H Lawrence’s steamy, and long-outlawed Lady Chatterley’s Lover fizzles out in this touring adaptation of the infamous novel, which begins its UK tour at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre.

The production sees Major Chatterley (Mark Hawkins) maimed during World War One and is left to be cared for by his suffering and desiring wife. Lady Chatterley (Phoebe Marshall) struggles with the demands placed upon her as a carer, as her love affair with farmhand Oliver (Rupert Hill) unfolds. The production struggles to put the complexities of the story successfully on stage, with awkward plot development and mild scenes of passion leaving the show feeling a little empty.

There is some intrigue, however, in how the performance is initially structured. Thrown straight into the volatile World War One environment, the horrors of war, and the physical and mental trauma resulting from the conflict, is a concept which haunts Ciaran McConville’s adaptation of this text. The looming trenches which dominate the backdrop, and the soldiers which remain on stage for the entire performance are an interesting concept and provoke thought about what the driving forces are in this piece.

Phoebe Marshall is Lady Chatterley with Marshall working hard with the material to try and craft a character wrapped up in fear and confusion about her desires and the impact of them. Marshall’s emotional range is tested in this piece, and, in the rare moments where she is given time to express her character’s inner-most thoughts and feelings, Marshall does so with some success.

Mark Hawkins is the stricken Major Chatterley, a character who it is hard to empathise with despite the horrific events that have befallen him. Like Marshall, Hawkins pushes hard to create a character with some layers, but he is limited with the lack of excavation to his character. There is just enough tenderness shown to present his genuine sadness at the possibility of losing his wife, but the tease of a closeness with nurse Ivy (Bethan Nash) is never fully explored.

Rupert Hill’s depiction of farmhand Oliver is again limited by his source material, and it is hard to really understand the character’s motives and ideas in this performance. Hill does attempt to show some chemistry between his character and Lady Chatterley, though this is luke-warm, but his more subtle characterisation methods, as he skulks across the stage, is impactful. There is a clear understanding of his hard-nosed character, however, which does make some of the rawer moments a little more effective.

One aspect of this production which is interesting is Katie Lias’ design. The set relies on a permanent backdrop of the trenches with scattered props to signpost the various locations in the piece. The constant reminder of war, and its impact on Chatterley, both physically and upon his relationship with his wife, is certainly impactful, and is a careful decision which does enhance the key ideas of this piece.

It is an ambitious and admirable task transforming this text into a performance, and there are genuine moments of emotion, particularly in scenes of strain between Chatterley and his wife. The production struggles with its painfully slow pacing and awkward plot development, which prevents the simmering chemistry you’d expect from this piece from reaching boiling point.

Runs until 22 February 2020 then continues to tour.

The Reviews Hub Score

Fizzles rather than sizzles

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