An interview with Hedydd Dylan
Lady Chatterley’s Lover runs at Oxford Playhouse 18th-22nd October. Hedydd Dylan stars in the role of Lady Chatterley; here she talks sex, censorship and masculinity.
For those who don’t already know the story, what can you tell us about Lady Chatterley’s Lover?
It’s primarily a love story but there’s so much more to it as well. It’s set during the aftermath of the First World War. It’s set against a backdrop of social unrest. Communities are trying to piece themselves back together after the trauma of the war. Working men are revolting against the wealthy because they realise that the camaraderie that they had during the war is over and capitalism is dividing people again. It’s a theme that’s still very relevant today – in terms of the disparity of wealth in society and the tension that causes.
Lady Chatterley’s husband was injured in the war. He’s in a wheelchair and they can’t have a child together. She’s more of a carer to her husband than a wife. She’s struggling with depression, feeling numb to the world, but she finds a way back to herself through a love affair with a game-keeper called Mellors. Phillip Breen, the director, has done a lovely job of projecting her emotional change through the changing of the seasons. She returns to herself with the beautiful arrival of summer. She comes alive again through love.
How do you manifest the changing of the seasons on stage?
It’s everything from the changing of flowers to differences in light. We also ask the audience to work quite hard at the start of the play with a number of short scenes reflecting the short winter days. There’s a lot of information that’s put across in these uncomfortable bitty scenes. You come to understand how frustrated she is in this big old house during these short gloomy winter days. But as we move into spring the love story begins to blossom – it’s really beautifully done.
What attracted you to the role of Lady Chatterley?
As an actor you’re incredibly privileged if you’re able to play a character who hardly leaves the stage. It gives you the opportunity to build a character very gradually. It’s wonderful when an audience is able to share every step of the journey with you and watch your character change during the course of a play.
It’s also quite a strong story from a feminist point of view. We’ve been very careful not to objectify Lady Chatterley in this presentation. Not to make her sexy or pornographic in the typical sense. She’s just a human being with a right to physical pleasure. I love that. And I enjoy that the nudity in our production is very innocent.
It’s interesting that you mention the innocence of the nudity. Phillip Breen mentioned that he wanted the couple’s first time together to be slightly ‘unsuccessful.’ How do you go about rehearsing a sex scene that is more tender than raunchy?
I suppose just by being honest. We’re exposed to sex quite a lot these days and it’s often portrayed in an unrealistic way. At the start of rehearsals we talked about awkward first encounters and what they were like. We didn’t want to make it too sexy. We mapped out the ways in which sex can be awkward. All those little physical difficulties, like getting your underwear caught on your shoe as you undress. That sort of thing. It’s quite sweet how things don’t always flow when two people don’t know each other yet.
This story is often thought of as a very sexy story. My grandparents’ generation used to hide their copies behind brown paper covers or read it in secret under the covers with torches. It’s hard to think of a book being so shocking in this day and age. To us, it’s simply the story of two people who fall in love.
People certainly aren’t as shocked now as they used to be, but do you think there’s something about the immediacy of theatre that makes the depiction of sex on stage different to sex in literature or on screen?
Absolutely. I’m not quite sure why that is. Perhaps it’s because you’re never alone in a theatre and you worry about how people will judge your reaction. We do occasionally get some nervous giggles from the audience the first time the lovers take their clothes off in front of each other – which, incidentally, is not the first time they have sex. The characters are shy about their nudity and it’s nice that the audience are a bit shy as well. It’s like we’re all children again, not knowing quite how to react.
The book was famously banned for a very long time. Do you feel it’s ever right to censor what people write?
That’s a minefield of a question! I do believe in freedom of speech but I suppose I draw a line when someone promotes abuse, sexism, racism or any other kind of hate.
Is there anything that is taboo today that you think may become more accepted in the next few decades?
The C-word is used in our play and the book. It was a taboo word a hundred years ago and it still is to a certain extent today. People’s reaction to that word is very interesting and I wonder if that will change over time. I also think people’s attitudes to sex have some way to go too. I’d like female masturbation to become less taboo. To be too buttoned up about sex isn’t healthy.
This production marks the centenary of the Somme. Was that timing deliberate?
Certainly. It’s important to remember people who sacrificed their lives – on both sides – but it’s also important to remember those who survived but lived on with the consequences of the war. There’s more to remembering the War than just remembering the fighting.
DH Laurence hoped that tenderness could build a better world after the war. Do you think that message still applies today?
There’s a sense of masculinity that’s still encouraged in young boys today. Phrases like ‘don’t be a wuss’ and ‘man up’ teach men that it is shameful to be emotional. Shameful to cry. I think it’s no coincidence that suicide is the leading cause of death among men under the age of 25. That’s ahead of car accidents. DH Laurence recognised that men should be allowed to be soft and there’s still progress to be made.
Are you excited about coming to Oxford?
Yes! I’ve played Oxford before. I love it as a city. It has a great theatre and the audiences are always very responsive. It’s a lovely place to be touring and I’m really happy to be returning.
Image - Jonah Russell (Mellors) and Hedydd Dylan (Lady Chatterley) in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Photo by Mark Douet
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