REVIEW: ON THE ROCKS, Hampstead Theatre

PUBLISHED: 12:25 17 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:14 07 September 2010

Two star rating Artistic retreats away from the workaday world often end in tears. Gauguin and Van Gogh in Arles is a notoriously unhappy example of such a project. And while DH and Frieda Lawrence s stay in Cornw

REVIEW: ON THE ROCKS, Hampstead Theatre

Two star rating

Artistic retreats away from the workaday world often end in tears. Gauguin and Van Gogh in Arles is a notoriously unhappy example of such a project. And while DH and Frieda Lawrence's stay in Cornwall with short story writer Katherine Mansfield and her lover, the critic John Middleton Murry, was not as ill-starred, it was hardly a bundle of laughs. This is something Amy Rosenthal's simple minded new comedy highlights with depressing efficiency.

The Lawrence's lifestyle experiment was an embryonic lurch towards DH's dream of a literary utopia with himself cast as the resident guru. But sadly, the live marital sitcom that Rosenthal fashions from this material falls rather flat, despite Clare Lizzimore's snappy direction.

The piece foregrounds the widely held impression that Lawrence's macho pantheism, and ambivalent attitude towards women masked a hinted at, but never fully acknowledged, homosexuality.

Rosenthal's Lawrence petulantly decries women's love for its suffocating inten-sity and assures his "disciple" Murry that "men can love each other without the fatal abrogation of the self."

This all echoes the sexual confusion of other literary figures like Stephen Spender and Thom Gunn who appeared to cloak sexual ambivalence in macho posturing.

It's an interesting phenomenon and Rosenthal misses a trick by not exploring it intelligently. Instead, we get the facile depiction of the Lawrences as a couple compelled towards physical expression; whether wrestling or feverishly rutting.

The presentation of Mansfield as a talented but blocked writer is also problematic. It provides no insight into the creative process, but seems to function as an opportunity for Rosenthal (who has suffered the same setback) to hit us with the tortured artist routine. Moreover, the play's pitting of Mansfield against Lawrence smacks of modern "girl power" politics; some-thing hardly relevant to 1914.

Certainly Lawrence did and said enough in his lifetime to be ridiculed in some quarters. But this work's relentless pursuit of belly laughs makes all the characters seem equally risible.

Until July 26.

David Gavan

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