Veteran actor Maurice Roeves back at Fringe with lowdown on the Lawrences

Maurice Ro�ves in his role of Angelo Ravagli, Italian soldier. Picture: BBC Films
Maurice Ro�ves in his role of Angelo Ravagli, Italian soldier. Picture: BBC Films
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MAURICE Roëves played a maverick aging rocker in the Scottish television classic Tutti Frutti, and stunned Fringe audiences 30 years ago with his mud-stained performance as the ploughman poet Robert Burns.

Now the veteran actor is returning to the Festival after an absence of ten years as the mischievous Italian soldier said to have been the real Lady Chatterley’s Lover, whose affair with DH Lawrence’s wife inspired the long-banned novel.

Roëves will play Angelo Ravagli in the one-man show, Just a Gigolo. The flirtatious Italian was “likable, cheeky and loved dancing,” he said. He was also a close supporter of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini “until he saw the light”.

Ravagli met the Lawrences at their villa near Florence in 1925, five years before DH Lawrence’s death. He began an affair with Frieda Lawrence that lasted 30 years and ended with their marriage, and later claimed the writer caught them having sex.

In 1928 Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the story of the young Constance Chatterley’s affair with “energetic” gamekeeper Oliver Mellors, was published privately in Italy. The character of her aristocratic husband, paralysed by a war wound, was said to mirror Lawrence’s own sexual frustration after tuberculosis ruined his health.

It was finally published in Britain in 1960, triggering the famous obscenity trial in which leading critics testified for the book’s literary merit. Penguin Books was found not guilty after prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones famously asked if it was a work “you would wish your wife or servants to read”.

In 2005 biographer John Worthen used new correspondence to argue the novel was inspired by Lawrence’s realisation that Ravagli, whom he befriended, was his wife’s lover. The play is co-produced by the Lakeside Arts Centre at the University of Nottingham, a centre for study of the Nottinghamshire-born writer.

Roëves, 75, whose film roles have run from Last of the Mohicans to The Damned United, returns to the festival for the first time since he appeared in the hit play Gagarin Way in 2001. In 1979 he played Robert Burns in the show There Was a Man.

The play is written and directed by Stephen Lowe as the finale in a Lawrence trilogy. Roëves plays Ravagli with an Italian accent and vocabulary. The production at the Assembly venue in George Square has a backdrop of the nude paintings that Lawrence painted at the time of the affair, also declared obscene by British authorities.

“I’m looking forward very much to being back since appearing with a sack over my head in Gagarin Way,” Roëves said. “I have been involved in Just A Gigolo since the very beginning. It has been fascinating discovering his story.”

Sunderland-born Roëves spent much of his life in Scotland. He has a home in New Mexico, where the Lawrences and later Ravagli also lived, and where he met former friends of theirs as part of his research.

After DH Lawrence’s death, Frieda asked Ravagli to collect the writer’s ashes and bring them to Taos, New Mexico. In 1956, on her death, she left him nine paintings, and the book itself.

Roëves cheerfully admitted yesterday he had never read Lady Chatterley. “I’m not a huge DH Lawrence fan. I have my suspicions about him. That’s why I’m playing Angelo Ravagli,” he said.

“I have Italian to learn in this, not just the lines but the pronunciation and Italian words. He was mischievous, and flirtatious, very much so, a very likable person. People are attracted to him, he’s got a nice personality, cheeky, and loves dancing.”

In scenes after Frieda’s death, “he reveals all the stuff that happens in the relationship. It’s more a conversation with the audience. We will be showing the paintings, projected up over the screen.”