Lady Chatterley's Lover

DH Lawrence’s simmering tale of love repression and resentment was banned in the UK for 32 years.

Never mind its obvious literary and intellectual merit, this story of impotence, frustration and extra marital affairs between a couple from vastly different social classes was simply too much for the buttoned-up, self-appointed guardians of the nation’s morals.

For that reason and the lurid headlines generated by the famous 1960 obscenity trial, Lady Chatterley’s Lover has always carried a lot of baggage.

So full marks to Hull Truck Theatre Company for producing this excellent stage adaptation.

A powerful three-hander, it finds Frazer Hammill as Sir Clifford Chatterley, back from the Great War, a bitter paraplegic observing the terrible events that have led his vivacious young bride to find love in the arms of Mellors, his gamekeeper.

 With Amie Burns Walker as the frustrated Lady Chatterley and Karl Haynes as the wiley but essentially decent Mellors, this play, adapted and directed by Nick Lane, focuses on an era of political and social change as much as it does on the physical love story. The result is a far more rounded and grounded production than one might expect. Using Sir Clifford as the narrator telling the story from his wheelchair with the benefit of hindsight and perhaps a few tricks of the memory, it’s a searing account of a man destroyed by his own pride, prejudice and self-loathing.  As he ruthlessly exploits the labourers he employes in his coal mines, he clings pitifully onto a rapidly vanishing world. His wife, appalled by his blind arrogance, finds tenderness and humanity in Mellors. She also of course finds revenge.  The increasingly lost Sir Clifford has only one hand left to play.  Sitting surrounded by the detritus of his past life - a simple but highly effective set by Graham Kirk - he refuses his wife the luxury of a divorce ensuring that shame and scandal will consume them both. 

Shame and scandal were also foremost in the minds of the prosecutors who tried to thwart Penguin Books decision to finally publish the full unexpurgated text of the book in 1960.

Thankfully life had moved on. The defence wheeled out highly respected supporters like the author EM Forster and the literary academic Richard Hoggart.

It left the prosecution floundering and their main-man Mervyn Griffiths-Jones, playing what could have been a parody of Sir Clifford Chatterley himself, when, brandishing the offending volume, he turned to the jury and asked them: “Is this the kind of book you would wish your wife or servants to read.” A spectacular own goal. The book was on the shelves within days.

Jeremy Miles

© Jeremy Miles 2022