The major works of DH Lawrence have regularly been adapted for television and the big screen. However, when it comes to the theatre, neither his own plays or adaptations of his novels have made regular appearances. Until now… Blue Orange Theatre have been touring the UK with their adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Adapted by Roman de Fruscan and directed by Tina Hofman, LCL bears the signature themes that run from his novels – social mobility (or not) within the classes; breaking the taboo of sex; how gender, culture and other socio-economic factor relates to this, and the possibility of higher ‘spiritual’ aspirations of human beings.
Set in the village of Teversall in Nottinghamshire just after the First World War, LCL follows Lady Constance ‘Connie’ Chatterley (Abigail Castleton) who has to contend with her husband Clifford Chatterley (James Tanton) and his pseudo-intellectual associates, who he entertains night after night. Paralysed from the waist down, Clifford’s circumstances are the stuff of these private debates, with Connie mortified that their private lives should be discussed this way.
Blue Orange Theatre have succinctly condensed the early part of the novel, omitting secondary characters in Connie’s backstory and moving details of her history with her sister to the second half. With regards to her husband’s loathsome companions, Hofman adopts a stylised approach whereby masks were worn by all (bar Connie and Clifford). Asides from hiding the fact that the cast were doubling up in parts, the masks ‘dehumanised’ the aristocratic characters who were ‘coarse’, lacked the capacity for empathy and at intervals acted in a robotic/machine-like fashion.
The play really gets going once Clifford divulges his concerns and responsibility to father an heir to keep the family line going, even though it’s a physical possibility. This being the case, he gives Connie dispensation to take a lover so that she could bear him a heir (though his true parentage would be their secret). Of course, Clifford had other aristocratic candidates in mind with regards to performing conjugal duties…
Oliver Mellors (Marcus Fernando) the gamekeeper, is described by Clifford has having “aspirations above his station”, but a chance meeting with him leaves Connie mystified and unable to articulate why she’s drawn to him. Obviously we know that eventually they become lovers, but in the early part of the play with the way things play out, it is far from inevitable that they ‘find each other’.
The lovemaking scenes that are the crux of the play are sensitively handled as they take their time and pleasure in discovering each other’s bodies and idiosyncrasies. Certainly the most ‘realistic’ and emotionally intimate portrayal of a couple yielding to each other I’ve seen on stage to date.
Beyond the idealistic confines of Mellors’ hut, the class struggle rages. While Clifford’s companion Mrs Bolton (Alison Jacques) is on the lovers’ side, Hilda (Bryony Tebbutt) is aghast at Connie’s choice of lover, which eventually brings things to a head…
“A woman wants you to like her and talk to her, and at the same time love her and desire her; and it seems to me the two things are mutually exclusive.” It is this opinion that separates Clifford and his peers from having fully-rounded relationships with women, even without the paralysis. The play does a good job of highlighting this tension.
What Connie and her sister truly desired in their younger days was unencumbered conversation with men with emotional intimacy, something they only acquired after ‘putting up’ with men satisfying their carnal desires. In a cruel twist of fate, Connie has all the intellectual conversation she could desire from Clifford, but he shuts the door on daring to admitting physical desire and blind to seeing Connie as a woman whose physical needs are as strong as her emotional ones. By giving her dispensation to ‘sire an heir’, he opens ‘Pandora’s Box’ and all that it entails…
It has been speculated that Clifford’s emphasis on companionate love reflects Lawrence’s stance at that time of his own celibate marriage. Even if that’s the case, then Lawrence writes from Mellors’ POV too, the ideal – appreciating Connie body and soul, as a creature of intellect AND feeling.
If LCL proves anything, it’s that Lawrence has his finger on the pulse of human sexuality, with the tensions between what men and women think want and what they ‘settle for’. Sometimes the gulf – the ‘no man’s land’ – is the difference in expectation between what men and women want. However, the disparity more often than not, is actually the difference between what one has, what one wants and what one is prepared to do about it – if at all.
Kudos to Hofman, Castleton, Fernando and the rest of the creative team on this accomplished adaptation – a project like Lady Chatterley herself, that wrestles with ‘intellectual’ ideas, emotional truths and the expression of passion to the fullest.
© Michael Davis 2017
Lady Chatterley’s Lover concluded its UK tour at the Cockpit Theatre, London on 24th-25th Feruary 2017.