Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not the easiest novel in the literary canon to dramatise, but Phillip Breen and the English Touring Theatre have made a thoughtful, if sometimes one-dimensional, interpretation of the seminal work. D.H. Lawrence’s notorious love story between an aristocratic young woman and a working-class man captures not only a truthful representation of an illicit sexual relationship but also the politics and national consciousness of a country upturned by the horrors of the First World War. For any dramatist and director, this is no mean feat.
The play does manage, in parts, to convey the compelling combination of personal turmoil set against the larger backdrop of collective unrest, pain and confusion. Perhaps surprisingly it is the character of Sir Clifford Chatterley –Eugene O’Hare gives a dazzling performance – who is able to depict the loss of identity felt by many after WW1; through both comic and quite heart-rending scenes, O’Hare embodies with adeptness the futility and absurdity of the social hierarchies that persisted after the war. The impotence of the upper classes, metaphorically and literally reflected by Sir Clifford’s physical inability to produce an heir, shines through in this production. But the novel’s focus on unionist activity and working class dissent is left by the wayside – yes, there is the occasional protest scene from the mining industry, but they seem clunkily inserted, tokenistic, and heavy-handed. Similarly, Mellors and Lady Chatterley’s relationship fails to embody the persistently class-conscious and socially-fraught elements that Lawrence originally conceived in his story.
The love affair between Oliver Mellors and Constance Chatterley, played by Jonah Russell and Heydydd Dylan respectively, has real moments of tenderness, bittersweet sadness and comedy. In one touching scene, the two laugh about Constance’s imitation of Mellors’ accent, an interaction, which expresses the innocence and candour of their socially unacceptable relationship. Russell also captures Mellors’ aloof pride throughout the play, an allegory for a national ego that had become rooted in sadness, loss and a sense of injustice. The sex scenes aren’t bad, but there was the inevitable accompanying cringe-worthy awkwardness – less is more, perhaps, came to mind. Though Breen is to be congratulated on attempting to honour the source material in this aspect, many would undoubtedly see an attempt to tone down Lady Chatterley’s raunchiness as sacrilege. Overall, the dramatic adaption of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is sweet and sensitive, portraying both the Constance-Sir Clifford marriage and the Constance-Mellors relationship with an intimate grasp on the complexity of both love and marriage. It does however fail in trying to convey the political unrest of the class-system that shaped Lawrence’s classic novel so determinedly.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is at Theatre Royal Brighton until Sat 19 Nov, 2016