While the world acknowledges D.H. Lawrence’s greatness as a novelist, and is unjustly equivocal about his stature as poet, it is a fact almost universally neglected that he ranks amongst our finest 20th century playwrights, writes Dave Brock.
Following a rare performance of one of Lawrence’s dialect masterpieces, The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, at the Kingsway Theatre in 1926, no less a figure than George Bernard Shaw is reported to have described Lawrence’s dialogue as “the most magnificent he had ever heard”. “Compared to that, my prose is machine-made lace. You can hear the typewriter in it”, he said, adding that he had heard in Lawrence’s play “a torrent of profuse yet vividly effective dialogue, making my own seem archaic in comparison”.
During this year’s D.H. Lawrence Birthday Lecture, in Eastwood, delivered by James Moran, Head of Drama at the University of Nottingham, which threw exciting new light on the connections between Lawrence and W.B. Yeats, revealing Yeats’ considerable admiration for Lawrence as dramatist, the speaker also observed that many of Lawrence’s novels and short stories contain fine pieces of theatre.
As director Phillip Breen, has clearly shown in his compelling new adaptation, running from September 21 to October 15 at the Sheffield Crucible, before transferring to the Theatre Royal, York, Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover can convert to the stage beautifully well, and better than it so far has for cinema or television.
Punctuated by explosive reminders of the Great War, and with ambient sounds from an on-stage piano - the Adagio of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata providing a profoundly tender musical motif - this gripping realisation had all the ingredients required to do Lawrence’s tale of the healing power of nature and love the justice it deserves, plus some added, just for good measure.
Of so many highlights, there might be mentioned that comic moment as “her Ladyship” attempts to mimic Mellors’ local dialect, Connie’s maternal tears over the frail, assertive pheasant chick, Clifford’s mechanical, motorised wheelchair symbolically expiring in the mud, and the pagan magic as our lovers strip off spontaneously to run with joy naked in the rain then lie panting, adorning each other in wild flowers.
Clifford had the correct conceited obduracy, Mrs Bolton was maimed yet resolute and generous, Mellors displayed a wounded and wary male cockiness, and lovely Dedydd Dylan, as the vulnerable Lady Chatterley, wilting away, then finding a refreshed vigour and sensitive awareness through sensual experience, delivered an heroic tour-de-force.
One sensed a large and keenly attentive audience achieved awakening also, emerging from what Anais Nin calls “our only complete modern love story” feeling that Lawrence’s “little flame” had warmed the cockles of their hearts.
(Photo by Mark Douet)