D H Lawrence had the ability to write like an angel and to bore for England. The Fight for Barbara shows evidence of both. Billed by the author himself as a 'comedy', the play is heavily drawn from his own early domestic life with Frieda, formerly Baroness von Richthofen, in north Italy.
The play finds us in familiar Lawrentian territory: Jimmy Wesson, the scion of coal-mining stock and bearer of the sacred life-force, has run away with Barbara Tressider, the daughter of an aristocratic family, who has left her husband to live in straitened circumstances in an Italian Villa.
The first half consists in the main of ponderous dialogue a world away from the badinage of Design for Living, with which this play is in repertory in Bath. 'You want to swallow me and take my will away', is a fair example of the conservation tinkling here among the coffee cups.
Rebecca Hall fizzes with vivacity - and talent - as the frankly infuriating Barbara, though she is, at times, a little too giddy. Jason Hughes, as Jimmy, on the other hand, is by some way too refined, not nearly the vital 'swivel-hipped' bit of rough, characteristic of Lawrence's heroes.
The play switches into gear with the arrival of Lady Charlcote (Ann Penfold) and later Sir William Charlcote (Col Farrell) who have come to bring their daughter home. Both give fine performances and the period of the play, which seems uncertain until now, swims into focus.
However, in the second half, with the arrival of Barbara's husband Dr Frederick Tressider, the play really takes flight. William Chubb gives a beautiful performance as the awkward, tortured Frederick who believes he has given all to his wife but who ultimately is an exile from the world of intimacy.
Lawrence's writing here is insightful, tender and wonderfully true and, coupled with the excellent performances elicited by director Thea Sharrock - who was lauded for her recent revival of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls - lifts this into more than a period theatrical curiosity.
The design, by John Gunter, is spare and elegant, a watercolour of houses among trees below mountains providing the backdrop to the set. Peter Mumford's lighting modulates the scene beautifully into sunset as The Fight for Barbara plays out among the ancient hills.
- Pete Wood