Lawrence after Arabia

Posted by Laurence Green

Howard Brenton's new drama about TE Lawrence fails to bring life to one of England's most enigmatic heroes in Lawrence After Arabia, write Laurence Green.

Lawrence After Arabia

The courageous English officer who rallied disunited Arab armies into a formidable fighting force to defeat the Ottoman Empire during the First World War provided the subject for David Lean's multiple Oscar-winning film Lawrence of Arabia. But what became of TE Lawrence afterwards? Well, playwright Howard Brenton attempts to find the answer in his new drama Lawrence After Arabia (Hampstead Theatre)

The action begins in 1922 and the most famous man in England has vanished without a trace. But in the idyllic calm of the Hertfordshire village of Ayot St Lawrence on the top floor of the home of Mr and Mrs Bernard Shaw the "uncrowned King of Arabia" is hiding - with slabs of homemade carrot cake for comfort.

Wearied by his romanticised persona and worldwide fame and disgusted with his country and himself, Lawrence is craving both normality and anonymity. But when you're a brilliant archaeologist, scholar, linguist, writer and diplomat, as well as a legendary desert warrior, how can you ever be normal? England just wants its hero back. Can he ever return? To complicate matters further a journalist is out to make capitol from his secret new life - Lawrence has enlisted in the RAF as an aircraftsman second class under an assumed name.

This is a play of bits and pieces, lacking a central focus and dramatic impetus. Brenton has certainly done his research but there's an uncomfortable sense of too many biographical details shoehorned in whether they help the drama or not. We are treated to imagined conversations between Lawrence, Shaw (who is writing the play St Joan) and his wife and some cumbersome flashbacks to Lawrence's negotiations with the Arab resistance. Lawrence was indeed an enigma; a man with an ego who ironically longed for obscurity but couldn't help stirring up controversy. He fiercely supported the Arab Revolt which promised freedom for the lands of the Middle East, but which Brenton argues, was betrayed by the British and French and which has led to the terrorist atrocities that haunt the Western world today.

Director John Dove elicits a convincing, if uncharismatic performance from Jack Laskey as the deeply conflicted individual that was TE Lawrence, tormented by his role in the deception of the Arab leaders. Good support is provided by Jeff Rawle as a rubicund and bearded Shaw and Geraldine James as his concerned and dignified wife.

But sadly, Brenton's uneven script fails to get any closer to the quintessence of this mercurial hero. A major disappointment.

Lawrence After Arabia

Runs at Hampstead Theatre until Saturday 4 June 2016

Box office: 020 7722 9301

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