Over 80 years after its initial publication, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by Nottinghamshire literary giant D.H.Lawrence is still, in approximately equal measure, as notorious as it is famous. This notoriety comes from the fact that the novel was not published openly in Britain until 1960 due to the sexual explicitness of its depiction of an adulterous relationship between a working class man and an upper class woman. Can this touring production of a new adaptation by Nick Lane of the Hull Truck Company, who also directs, make light of this baggage to get at the themes of Lawrence’s novel?
|Lady Chatterley's Lover - Hull Truck Programme Image|
The play opens with Lady Chatterley herself (Amie Burns Walker) walking out on her marriage to the wheelchair bound Sir Clifford Chatterley (Frazer Hammill) to be with Mellors (Karl Haynes), the estate’s gamekeeper and eponymous lover. The story then unfolds in flashback, with Sir Clifford as the main narrator but with Lady Chatterley and Mellors each taking turns to shed light on events and their inner life.
The three actors remain on stage throughout the production, taking on the parts of the other characters as needed and handling the minimal scene changes. Their performances were good, Frazer Hammill bringing out the complexities of the ineffectual and weak Sir Clifford and Karl Haynes giving Mellors the depth he needs beyond being a woman’s fantasy ‘bit of rough’. Amie Burns Walker, in her touring debut, fares less well as the underwritten Lady Chatterley who never quite feels as rounded as the other main characters but she quickly brings to life the smaller roles of Hilda Reid and Bertha Coutts.
The fragmented structure of the play allows the story to shift rapidly between time periods and viewpoints, allowing geographically and temporally dispersed events to happen side by side on stage. These rapid shifts are occasionally confusing as an actor moved from scene to narration to scene. Clearer signalling of these shifts by the lighting and sound design and direction could have helped, but this momentary disorientation is rare and generally the device is handled well. The music set the mood nicely and complimented the more emotional scenes effectively. The lighting design was less eloquent and sometimes could have been more imaginatively used. The set, a junkyard ring of clutter around the stage didn’t inform the action and seemed unnecessary and distracting.
The script was a little overcooked in places, the obstacle of class barriers between the lovers seemed to be shrugged off rather easily and the political concerns of the book are not fully explored but the production makes the sensible decision to focus instead on the relationship between the three main characters. Adapting such a well known work could be a thankless task, with those familiar with the book unhappy about what’s been omitted and those new to the story feeling that they’re not getting the full picture but Nick Lane has managed to create a play that feels self contained and satisfying and a production that, while not without flaws, is both absorbing and enjoyable.
25th May 2011