PHOENIX RISING has just finished a successful run at the 2011 Adelaide Festival as part of the Centre for International Theatre.
More than the fecund earth is what Lawrence recalls, reflecting on his early life in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire.
Accomplished stage, television and film actor Paul Slack is spot-on for this one-man show. Sporting the perfect beard, his slight, besuited figure is agile across a stage which is bare but for a table, chair and books - all the props needed for a writer or an actor portraying a writer.
This is the story of a young life where mining is omnipresent in a family home unusual for it's filled bookcase and a beloved mother constantly reading. Son Bertie (Lawrence) explains the mismatch of his parents marriage - his mother had never before been 'thee'd' and 'thou'd' before, so the raven-haired miner wooed the schoolmistress into a union where book learning would ever stand between them.
Slack's accent is lovely - soft as a standard, and ranging across the show from the wild Irish of W B Yeats, to stammering schoolmaster and father returned from the pub, slurring his speech. This fascinating performance will captivate for its character and ages - Slack is particularly good with the young children at home, Bertie with his sisters Ada and Emily, sneakily cooking treats of toffee or potato cakes.
When the story segues into Lawrences teaching life and introduction by Ford Maddox Ford to London's literary scene, tricky piles of books allow Slack to show nervous energy.
You don't need to know all the writer's history to enjoy this consumate performance, though heads in the row's nodding when word of spiritual lover Jessie Chambers and her farm comes is a sign that some of the audience surely did.
'InDaily' Review by Kate Deller- Evans
I admit it. I don't know much about D H Lawrence. Sure I'd read a few of his poems and vaguely immersed myself in Sons & Lovers during year 11 English. But his actual life? I didn't know much about him at all, and, to tell the truth, I didn't really care. Not interested.
Until I saw Phoenix Rising, that is. Paul Slack's brilliant monologue has ignited an interest in D H Lawrence that I will nurture with pleasure.
Paul, for all intents and purposes was D H Lawrence. He certainly looked the part (well, what I imagined Lawrence to look like anyway!): full beard, suitably period suit and haircut. The stage and props were simple: a desk, books, wooden tray, a freestanding mirror. Anything else would have detracted from the character and been overkill.
The play itself was beautifully delivered. That one man could fluidly slip in and out of so many of the characters that populated Lawrence's life - without losing the thread of the story and the attention of the audience - was a joy to watch. I was drawn into the story from the 'get go' and this is a testament to the calibre of the writing, the directing and the acting... I watched 'Bertie' burn potato cakes with his sisters, witnessed his father's and mother's mismatched courtship and tragic marriage, experienced Bertie being beaten at the hands of bullies at school and his blossoming friendship with Jessie Chambers (and her brothers!), and his meeting with Ford Maddox Ford. All were characters in Berties life and all were richly developed and revealed by Paul.
Two or three scenes particularly impacted me emotionally (and I'll try not to ruin the story for those who are going to see the play) because they were so honestly and vulnerably played. Paul's command of his craft meant that scenes that could have been pushed into melodrama in the hands of less capable actors were delivered poingantly and hauntingly: the end, for all intents and purposes, of Bertie's parents marriage, the depths of his feelings for the Chamber's brothers: the death of his mother.
Phoenix Rising is a layered and intimate character study with many twists and turns, Paul offers the audience Lawrence's idiosyncracies, foibles and failings compassionately, and on our journey through his life we are asked to suspend our judgement of him; we are encouraged to understand the context of his genius from the perspective of his background and upbringing. The people in Bertie's life - and his experiences of them - made him who he was and influenced his writing and this understanding underpins the success of the play. Paul has great empathy for D H Lawrence and it shines like a beacon throughout his performance.
They say that every actor is born to play one role. For Paul Slack, D H Lawrence is it.
Another biographical show presented by Guy Masterson's Centre for International Theatre, Phoenix Rising is about the life of controversial English Novelist D H Lawrence, author of the sensational (at the time) Lady Chatterly's Lover.
However, this play focuses on his childhood, early adulhood and the beginnings of his literary career prior to that scandal, particularly his relationship with his mother.
Performer, Paul Slack, directed by Campbell Kay (who also wrote the script) does an excellent job; his melifluous delivery is a perfect match for the excellent text. His wide range of accents allows him to portray the numerous people in Lawrence's life: his siblings; his fellow students; his stammering teacher; his publisher, Ford Maddox Ford; Irish poet W. B. Yeats; and, most impressively, his father, who spoke the unfamiliar (to most Australian ears) Nottinghamshire dialect.
An insightful, well written and well performed character study of an interesting historical figure, and an excellent example of the biographical play.
Written and directed by Campbell Kay and performed by Paul Slack, this is the first of seven of the ten productions brought to Australia this year by Guy Masterson's Centre for International Theatre that I will be reviewing, with Rod Lewis reviewing the other three that I have previously reviewed in past years. It was certainly a fine start to my season of CIT reviews.
Paul Slack portrays D. H. 'Bertie' Lawrence, very ill, nearing the end of his life and reminiscing on his earlier, formative years growing up in Nottingham. The text was drawn from Lawrence's writings, as well as the memories of family, friends and others.
If that was all there was to it this would still be a very good production but, no, there is much, much more. Slack also plays a host of other characters, including Lawrence's parents, brother, his girlfriend and muse, Jessie Chambers, as well as numerous friends and teachers.
Lawrence came from a working class background, his father an alcoholic miner and his mother a teacher, and he was extremely close to his mother. This play takes us through to her death from cancer after a lengthy illness, which left him devastated. The other woman in his life at the time was Jessie Chambers, at whose family home he spent many happy times.
We see his unhappy days at school, lighter moments, such as his attempts to make potato cakes, as well as his first steps into the literary world that he would later embrace completely.
Throughout all of these brief reminiscences Paul Slack slips easily from one character to another in the blink of an eye, in a totally captivating performance. in so doing he introduces us to a multifaceted man coming to terms with life and his own unusual approach to it.
Whether you are well-versed in the works and life of Lawrence, or know nothing more than that his last novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, was banned until 1960, you will find this fine play a fascinating and rewarding experience thanks to Paul Slack's teriffic performance. Don't miss it!