Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Sheffield Crucible)

A stylish new production of DH Lawrence’s classic

The advertising promises that the Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre production of Lady Chatterley's Lover will get behind the scandal – and it certainly does that. Phillip Breen‘s adaptation of DH Lawrence’s novel doesn’t shy away from the celebrated obscenities of the original, but neither does it pepper the text with them: the nudity and once-offensive language are handled skilfully, introduced at the appropriate times without coyness or sensationalism.

Lawrence’s preoccupations – with class conflict, the traumatising effects of the First World War, personal freedom and the perilous future of our nation – are dealt with seriously. The importance of nature and the passing of the seasons is presented in the strewing or gathering of blossoms for each season. The adaptation is equally true to the original in terms of plot, with inevitable omissions and an earlier final cut-off point giving an ambiguous ending.

The opening stages of Breen’s production are brilliantly stylish. Before the start Laura Hopkins‘ design consists simply of a curtain at the back and various articles of furniture shrouded in covers like a great house shut up for the winter. As they are uncovered, Sir Clifford’s wheelchair is revealed, as is a piano. As the story of the unhappy Chatterley marriage emerges, brief scenes give snapshots of their life and David Osmond raids the classical piano repertoire for mood-enhancing pieces.

Sir Clifford’s war wound, his impotence and his success as a playwright, his wife’s hint at dalliance with the even more popular playwright Michaelis, Sir Clifford’s humiliating suggestion that, to preserve the aristocratic line, his wife should bear a child by another man – all these are told allusively. The often bare set and the clean lines of Natasha Chivers’ lighting give an appropriate Art Deco look. Breen manages to suggest a slow pace – these are people to whom life is happening in its own time – but the short scenes cover narrative ground at fair speed.

Unfortunately the meat of the novel can’t be dealt with so readily. Mellors, the gamekeeper, appears and there are solid narrative blocks to handle – and perhaps rather too much philosophy for the average theatregoer. Individual scenes are well done, but the tempo slows and the performance is, frankly, too long (incidentally, at least 10 minutes longer than the precisely calculated 2 hours 36 minutes of the theatre’s website).

A cast of eight, three playing multiple parts, work well together in what is a very truthful interpretation despite the longueurs. Hedydd Dylan‘s brittle Lady Chatterley is always sympathetic and convincing, her growing liberation completely credible. Jonah Russell‘s Mellors is similarly understated and believable. Sir Clifford is more difficult to establish as a consistent character, but Eugene O’Hare manages the aristocratic contempt, the self-pity and the growing childishness well enough, and Will Irvine‘s four-role stint includes a clever turn as Michaelis, supposedly a satire on George Bernard Shaw.

Lady Chatterley's Lover runs at the Sheffield Crucible until 15 October before touring to Oxford, York, Malvern, Salisbury, Brighton and Cambridge.