Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

By Tom Barry

English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres come together to stage this new adaptation by Philip Breen (director of the Mystery Plays performed this summer in the Minster). Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a cornerstone of erotic fiction, unspeakably subversive in its day for its frankness in exploring female sexuality. The play is both adapted and directed by Breen, and for much of the first half his love for the text is tangible, sometimes weighing this adaption down with an unhelpful reverence.

The action spends the first half flitting incessantly from one scene to the next, refusing to settle on any one interaction for long enough for the audience to catch its breath, and Natasha Chivers’ accompanying lighting, while effortlessly distinguishing between each setting on a sparse stage, must race to keep up, rendering the whole effect incomprehensibly jagged. Breen’s script is overly preoccupied with the historical context surrounding the time, the disgruntled working classes upon who’s returning home after the Great War, found their lots in life no better than before.

It can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a whimsical farce or a heavy-handed period drama. It is clear that Breen has a great admiration for the novel, so much so that some of the guile of Lawrence’s prose is lost in Breen’s treatment of every part of the story as integral. It isn’t until the relationship between Lady Chatterley and her titular lover begins to blossom that the play finds its centre, and relaxes into a keen observation of romantic and erotic love.

It isn’t until the relationship between Lady Chatterley and her titular lover begins to blossom that the play finds its centre, and relaxes into a keen observation of romantic and erotic love.

Amongst a cast of skilled actors, Hedydd Dylan (Lady Chatterley) and Jonah Russell (her lover Mellors) deserve particular praise for their chemistry and sympathetic depictions of two people, thrust by circumstance into adoring and disappointing each other. Breen’s decision to have them cavorting naked across the stage save for the flowers in their hair is fitting for a story, the legacy of which is the normalisation of the profane. And Eugene O’Hare as Sir Clifford Chatterley the husband, paralysed by a war wound, is magnificent in his faithfulness to his character; he belittles his wife, his servants and his subordinates, and in rare glimpses of vulnerability, turns heartbreakingly pitiable in his longing for the life he once had. His paralysis is no excuse for, but rather a catalyst for his attitudes and actions, and O’Hare conveys this richness with understated aplomb.

Fans of the novel and class subversion should make their way to York Theatre Royal soon for a faithful yet original interpretation of the book, which though requiring some time to find its focus, once in its prime, is captivating.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, adapted and directed by Philip Breen from the novel by D.H. Lawrence. Performing at York Theatre Royal until Saturday the 29th of October. Tickets available online (yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/event/Lady_Chatterleys_Lover.php) and at the box office.

Eugene O'Hare as Sir Clifford Chatterley. Photography by Mark Douet.
Eugene O’Hare as Sir Clifford Chatterley. Photography by Mark Douet.
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