On the Rocks, Hampstead Theatre, London
You know what happens when good friends go on holiday
Sunday 06 July 2008
Who needs enemies when you've got pals like D H Lawrence? Amy Rosenthal's enjoyable new biodrama On the Rocks is a serio-comic group portrait that homes in on the novelist's maladroit attempt to create a utopian literary community in Cornwall during the First World War. This is when he and his German wife Frieda – having fled not only her homeland but also her children and first husband – moved to the remote village of Zennor and invited their friends, the writer Katherine Mansfield and her editor-husband John Middleton Murry, to rent the cottage next door.
We see Ed Stoppard's indefatigable Lawrence scorning the aggression of the war and the local xenophobic persecution which his spouse is encountering. Simultaneously, his ivory tower of an idyll is being shot to hell because of his bullish egocentricity and vitriolic temper. He commandeers the other couple's kitchen every night and holds forth at supper. Spouting his credo that male friendships are somehow on a higher plane, he is predominantly interested in bonding with Nick Caldecott's nervously pliant, tweedy Murry. Tracy-Ann Oberman's garrulous Frieda is left to distract Charlotte Emmerson's Mansfield from her writing. Not one for social niceties, Lawrence thinks nothing of manhandling his wife between courses.
What's remarkable is that, thanks to Rosenthal's robust sense of humour and Stoppard's charisma, you don't end up loathing Lawrence. Clare Lizzimore's production involves a somewhat lumpen realistic set on which the drama occasionally stagnates.
But the whole cast give fine performances. Emmerson's increasingly exasperated Mansfield is quietly nuanced, struggling, as the playwright did, with writer's block. Meanwhile, the gents' wrestling scene is a delightfully farcical variation on the famous fireside tussle in Women in Love. Stoppard's skinny, pugilistic Lawrence huffs and puffs as Caldecott's pusillanimous Murry leaps into his arms like a baby.
Hampstead Theatre, NW3 (020-7722 9301) to 26 Jul
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman 'suffocates newborn baby in plastic bag and puts it in her desk minutes after giving birth'
- 2 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove