Upside Down at the Bottom of the World

Upside Down at the Bottom of the World is an award-winning play that details D.H. Lawrence’s brief spell in Cornwall and Australia. It has particular resonance for David Faulkner as he played Lawrence in the original play at the beginning of his career and has now directed it in his retirement. 

D.H. Lawrence lived in Cornwall from 30 December 1915 to 15 October 1917 in what he hoped would be a new life away from the industrial Midlands of his birth. It didn’t quite work out as he planned. He was accused of being a spy, his passport was removed, and he was booted out of Cornwall under the Defence of the Realm Act. His short tenure on the edge of Britain would have a profound effect on his ideas, not least his developing fascination with cosmic vibrations and the mysterious secrets of primitive cultures emanating from the dark black granite Zennor coastline.

Lawrence courted controversy throughout his short life, which is what I love most about him. He married a German woman called Frieda Weekley, a distant relation of the ‘Red Baron’, 15 days before the outbreak of WWI. The Rainbow, published the following year, lasted two months in print before being seized under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. Prosecutor Herbert Musket declared it ‘a mass of obscenity of thought, idea, and action’ for daring to question fundamentals of everyday life, such as work, marriage and religion. Judge Sir John Dickinson ruled that the book ‘had no right to exist in the wind of war’, and that Lawrence was in effect mocking the very principles British men were fighting to defend. With no sense of irony, copies of The Rainbow were publicly burned, while ‘our’ boys fought for freedom on the Western Front.

Lawrence would live a restless life, travelling the globe and staying no longer than two years in any one place. His experiences of living in Cornwall and Australia would serve as the backdrop to David Allen’s play Upside Down at the Bottom of the World. Originally performed in 1980, it scooped the Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Play. More recently, the play has been revived by David Faulkner and was performed at Lane Theatre, Newquay in March. It’s hoped the play may make its way back to Nottinghamshire at some point.

Frieda once said that what she loved most about Lawrence was his saying ‘yes’ to life, known as ‘Bejahung’ in German. The same could be said of David Faulkner. “One day, while on the London tube, I happened to see an advert in Time Out which read, ‘English Speaking Actors wanted for the Cafe Theatre Frankfurt’. Rather than send my CV, photograph and covering letter, I bought a £17.50 Magic Bus Ticket, packed an overnight bag and the next thing I knew I was in Frankfurt looking for The Cafe Theatre. Probably due to bare faced cheek rather than my chosen audition pieces I was offered the job. Eighteen months later I was still working at the Cafe theatre as both an actor and director, doing three monthly rep.”

It was here that he first encountered Davis Allen’s play, offering to play the part of Lawrence after the original cast member had to withdraw. “I had just ten days to learn the lines and replicate the role in preparation for a continued three-month tour of Holland and Germany. I remember so little of that production but often returned to the script with the thought that one day I would revive it.”

Now he has found himself directing the play that helped kickstart his career. Although remaining true to the original script, David has introduced some interesting extra details, such as Lawrence knitting bloomers. “Frieda liked wearing French knickers yet Lawrence preferred her to wear bloomers, which he often made for her. Therefore, at the beginning of the play we see Lawrence sewing a pair of bloomers which Frieda puts on in front of him. We see this sexual game playing is indeed a significant part of their relationship.”

David is now retired and living in Cornwall and runs a small touring company as well as guest directing for several local community groups. So why did he decided to put the play on now? “Sometimes a play comes along that has particular relevance at a certain time. Upside Down at the Bottom of the World is one of those plays. The political turmoil of the Diggers, the right/left struggle, the influence of the Unions in conflict with the capitalists is almost a mirror to what we are experiencing here and now.”

Brexit has certainly delivered plenty of turmoil as of late, so would Lawrence have voted ‘leave’ or ‘remain’? “Now that’s a hard one. Married to a German, he may have voted Remain. Then again having no truck with a capitalist world order, and being the son of a miner, perhaps, Leave. Now that would make a great play, haha.”

Upside Down at the Bottom of the World was performed at Lane Theatre, Newquay, Cornwall, TR8 4PX from 14-16 March and 21 – 23 March 2019. This blog was originally published on the UNESCO City of Literature website. I’m currently working with Paul Fillingham on the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. You can learn more about this digital pilgrimage by following  the project blog or Instagram account.

#LeftLionIs15 15 years, 100 covers…

Leftlion celebrates its 100th issue this month after 15 years of rattling on about Nottingham. The magazine began life in black and white and was originally published bi/monthly. It went monthly a few years ago, and more recently it’s shrunk a little in size. The weight loss is down to being funded entirely through advertising and a necessity to help break even. The Guardian recently went on a diet, so we’re not alone in slimming down to the tabloid format. LeftLion is increasingly expanding into digital as it adapts to the needs of new audiences, so it’s quite an achievement to still be publishing a print version given the brutal economics of print media. Each month, 10,000+ copies are distributed to 350+ venues across the city, and I’ve helped deliver them as well as writing the copy inside. I’ll be picking up a copy and adding it to my collection of memorable magazines and papers (Kurt Cobain’s suicide – NME, Barack Obama’s inauguration – Guardian, last day at Raleigh – Evening Post) that will one day shift a few coins on ebay or, more likely, offer kindling for the fire.

I was the literature editor for 13 years and thoroughly enjoyed my time working under Jared Wilson, Al Needham, and Ali Emm. All of them had their own distinct ideas and vision about LeftLion’s role in pimping out Notts. The current editor, Bridie Squires, is barely in her twenties, and so the magazine will invariably take on a more youthful view of culture. And rightly so. Nottingham has changed dramatically over the years. Milton’s (pub) no longer takes pride of place in the Viccy, the xylophone man has been replaced by the iphone man – yoots rapping over the top of recorded tracks for money, and the fountains in Market Square have been slabbed over to make way for a giant sandpit in summer and an ice rink in winter. The ice rink got the Nottingham stamp of approval when someone carved ‘cunt’ into the ice so that it displayed on the live feed hosted on the council website. It totally captured the Notts attitude: Lairy, Sweary, Quite Contrary. This act of vandalism brought me almost as much pleasure as the lad that queued up for two hours so that he could punch Peter Andre at a book signing. Or Lord Biro, a professional mitherer, who stood in a local election promising to make the burqa compulsory for Kerry Katona because he was sick of seeing her face everywhere.

It was very difficult to step down from Leftlion but it was the right time. I’ve done my bit for Notts and now it’s time to do a bit for mesen. At present, this includes: working on a BBC4 Radio programme called The Tongue and Talk of the People (due to be broadcast in May); Dawn of the Unread II: Whatever People Say I Am (sometime in 2018); and DH Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage (2019). The latter two projects both involve digital storytelling and are created with my partner in crime, Paul Fillingham (Think Amigo). Check out our Lawrence instagram account to see how we’re building an archive of byte-sized chunks of info about Nottingham’s favourite potty mouth, or say hello on Twitter. There were other reasons why it was the right time to step down in terms of the artistic direction of the magazine, but I’ll save them for another blog. The sun has just come out and I want to get in the garden and chop some logs. It’s where I do most of my thinking, and like DH Lawrence, I find it therapeutic:  ‘You have no idea how soothing to it is to the nerves’ he explained to Dorothy Brett. ‘When I am in a temper, I like to run out into these quiet woods and chop down a tree; it quiets the nerves. Even chopping wood helps; you’ve no idea, Brett, how much it helps. That’s why I like doing it.’

To celebrate reaching 100, LeftLion are publishing a book of their front covers. I’ve been involved with a few of these, such as Scab City, the Sillitoe Issue, Nottingham: Then and Now, and a spoof version of William Booth’s In Darkest England. You can support their kickstarter campaign #LeftLionIs15 here: