I have to be honest and admit that, I have never read any of D H Lawrence’s books, nor seen and television or film adaptation. And yet I seem to have grown up knowing the name. His most famous novel ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is still considered a little risque even these days. However forgetting the notoriety, what was the man himself like? Well thanks to writer Campbell Kay and his lovely work “Phoenix Rising D H Lawrence Son & Lover” at the Tristan Bates you can find out more about the man behind the headlines.
Set in the year 1928 Lawrence (Paul Slack) is living on an island in France with his wife Frieda, and has received a letter from one of his childhood friends, David Chambers. As he sits and starts to write a reply, Lawrence starts to reminisce about his life from birth to the death of his beloved mother when Bert (short for Herbert the ‘H’ bit of D. H. Lawrence) was only 25. Over the course of the play, Lawrence describes his life growing up with a father working down the Nottinghamshire pit and a mother who many believed may have married beneath herself. His time at school – where he was bullied for not being a ‘real’ boy and preferring talking to girls to playing football – before he left the local and won a scholarship to the local Boys High School. Onwards through more of his life, the horror of performing a recitation in front of the Sunday School, then the moment he met Jessie Chambers and her family at Haggs Farm. We learn of his devotion to Jessie walking 8 miles there and back to see her – and help her with her schooling – and the relationship between them. We travel with Bert through his early life as he left childhood behind and trained to be a teacher, with Jessie still a major factor – despite the misgivings and negativity of his mother – and into his first job at the Davidson School in Croydon. The story ends with the publication of his first novel and the death of his mother which totally devastated Lawrence leading to him becoming very ill – he was to describe this period as his ‘sick year’.
It is easy to forget that notorious people were once children with all the hopes and fears that childhood brings, but “Phoenix Rising D H Lawrence Son & Lover” manages to humanise Bert beautifully. First performed in 1985, this is the third version of “Phoenix Rising” and Writer/Director Campbell Kay has put together a superb piece which really brings the author to life. To give you an example of how much I enjoyed the work, I saw it last night, read the script on the way home and am listening to the audiobook as I write this piece. I really feel that I know so much more about D H Lawrence now – a man that was not initially not that confident and was brought up in a household where his mother was a completely dominating force and a father that probably thought he was a failure for not going down the mines. There is humour and power in the writing and although there are some things hinted at, and a quite shocking revelation at one point, it is ultimately a very human and moving piece of work
Paul Slack is superb in the role, not only managing to bring the story to life but doing so in such a way that he needs no other people on stage to convey the various characters within the narrative. I was particularly impressed with the way Paul’s entire persona changed – not only in voice but also physically – during the various interactions with other people. This was particularly true in the first act, when Paul changed from Bert to his very drunken father so well it was as if there had been two actors on the stage. A masterpiece of acting talent on show.
All told then whether you are a fan of D H Lawrence or, like me, merely know the name “Phoenix Rising D H Lawrence Son & Lover” is superbly written and beautifully acted and a truly marvelous show.
Review by Terry Eastham
Phoenix Rising D H Lawrence Son & Lover
Written and directed by Campbell Kay, Phoenix Rising D H Lawrence Son & Lover presents a fresh take on Lawrence’s early life. In a series of animated snapshots, Paul Slack as D.H.Lawrence reflects on the events and personalities which shaped his early years including the stormy relationship between his parents; his own, frequently miserable, schooldays; the happiness he found with the Chambers family; his work as a schoolmaster and the beginnings of his literary career.
Tue 22 Sep – Sat 17 Oct, 7.30pm / 3.30pm
Thursday 24th September 2015