Monday 30 June 2008

With a Twist

Hello, hello. A nice (but busy) weekend in London - met up with blogging friend Angela, and with university friends Lorna and Phil, saw the Tate Modern and the locked outside of the British Library, bought some more Persephone books (Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson; A Woman's Place 1910-75 by Ruth Adam; A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman), and a non-fiction book called Identical Strangers which is by and about a pair of twins, separated at birth and reunited at age 35. As you might know, I'm fascinated by all things twin, and have already read most of this fascinating book - will be writing about it soon.

It feels a little mea
n to review a play which is only on in London at the moment, because getting to London isn't feasible for many of my lovely readers, but you might derive vicarious interest - and some of you, like Stuck-in-a-Book's favourite feline, Dark Puss, are City dwellers.

On The Rocks - at Hampstead Theatre until 26 July - is by Amy Rosenthal - if you recognise the name, it's probably because her Dad is the late Jack Rosenthal, and mother is Maureen Lipman. She probably hates being introduced like that, but... well, I'm sure she's proud of it too. Her play is a comedy about... actually, I'll copy the blurb from the advertisement I picked up:

Spring 1916, DH Lawrence and his wife Frieda have found a new life for themselves in the remote Cornish village of Zennor. Rejuvenated by the wild beauty around them, they persuade close friends Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry to join them in their Cornish idyll. But no sooner have Katherine and Jac
k arrived than long-simmering tensions bubble to the surface, and Lawrence's dream of communal living starts unravelling before his eyes... Based on true events, this is the story of women, and men, in love. An uplifting and passionate comedy about four friends trying to live together, two marriages struggling for survival and a group of writers striving for creativity in the midst of war.

I've read books by three of the characters depicted, and count Katherine Mansfield amongst my favourite writers, but this play could be enjoyed by anybody. Knowing a bit about the writers' lives certainly adds a dimension, but Rosenthal's writing (and Clare Lizzimore's directing) make this universally enjoyable. Much of the humour comes from the clash of personalities - DH Lawrence is working-class with philosophical pretensions, selfish and deeply aware of pot
ential betrayal; J. Middleton Murry is quintessentially English; Katherine Mansfield is a little bitter about her life, but mostly sensible, likeable and sees through DH Lawrence's pretensions; Frieda Lawrence is explosive, thinks of food and sex a lot of the time, but funny and gregarious. One of the funniest moments was when DH Lawrence challenge John Middleton Murry to a wrestle, to help them bond as friends and release energy - DHL whips off his clothes and starts doing primitive stretching and lunging, whilst JMM carefully takes off each item of clothing, folding each one neatly and placing them in a tidy pile.

That doesn't make me sound uber-highbrow, does it? On The Rocks has its philosophical moments, and is a thoughtful examination of disparate ways of life, but above and beyond that it is a comedy, and a very successful one. I urge anyone with the chance, do go and see it. Then read The Garden Party and Pencillings and Lady Chatterley's Lover and... whatever Frieda Lawrence would have written.


  1. It was lovely to see you, Simon.

    And this 1916 attempt at a Cornish idyll (if real) must be what DHL based Women in Love on, don't you think?

    Or, if the idyll is Amy Rosenthal's invention, then she must have drawn on Women in Love.

    Do you happen to know which is which?

  2. Sounds great, but a bit off the beaten track from the wilds of Yorkshire. It is interesting that she has picked Lawrence and Co as subject matter. Perhaps he is due for a revival. Selling secondhand books on literary matters you get sensitive to these things. My Lawrence shelf looks identical to how it did 6 or 7 years ago -very little bought in, nothing sold. I cannot sell Lawrence stuff at all. Katherine Mansfield is no problem but Lawrence is out of it at the moment. Odd.

  3. That sounds like the best sort of play! And good to know Amy Rosenthal is following in her father's footsteps!

  4. I did say I was sorry about leading you right across London to the locked British Library! It's very nice when it's open, honest...they have the Magna Carta and Paul McCartney's original lyric sheet for "Yesterday"...

  5. I've heard a couple of radio interviews with the twins and the book sounds fascinating. Looking forward to your review...

  6. Have you read Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore? It is a fictional account of just this time when Lawrence and Frieda rented their cottage in Cornwall - it might make an interesting companion with the play.


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