Imagine your typical romantic costume drama: gazing into the middle distance, extended pauses in conversation, frequent flashbacks & dream sequences, and forbidden love. Now imagine that Mel Brooks has got his hands on it – the result is Happy Idiot’s Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Written by company co-founder Lawrence Russell, it’s a version of the D.H. Lawrence classic like no other; its aim is to tread the fine line between drama & comedy, and the outcome is a perfectly crafted production of comic genius.
Clifford Chatterley is called away to fight in the ‘Great War’ not long after his marriage- tragically, he ends up returning in a wheelchair and is unable to provide an heir to continue the Chatterley line. He and Constance begin to drift apart emotionally, as the pressure of looking after Clifford takes its toll on Lady Chatterley; eventually he agrees to hire a nurse (Mrs Bolton) and she takes a short break with her sister. Clifford hits upon an idea to save a bit of face and keep the family name going, but this is thrown into chaos when Constance becomes entangled with the gamekeeper, Mellors.
It’s actually quite challenging to write about this show without really giving anything away; it is full of surprises, each more ridiculous than the last, and practically every other line is a punchline. There is also a healthy dollop of physical comedy and plenty of visual gags to keep you going – if you can see them through tears of laughter, that is! Because it’s not just polite titters & chuckles we’re talking about, Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover is crammed full of belly laughs and moments that will still have you in stitches when you recall them days later. Even their use of captioning is worked into the rest of the production, so they’re making the show more accessible and being inventive at the same time.
Thanks to a smart set design, the action is able to move from within Wragby Hall to outdoors and Mellors’ own lodge. By simply folding certain parts of the backdrop the cast quickly & smoothly alter the scenery, allowing the pace & flow to be maintained with minimal effort. An original score from Savage and Spies also adds to the atmosphere, and really plays up the romantic drama elements of the story.
The performances from the cast of four are absolutely spot on. From Rebecca McClay’s thorough & steadfastly professional Mrs Bolton (as well as her portrayal of Constance’s less than understanding sister), to Lawrence Russell’s superlative turn as the selfish and typically upper class Clifford. Wesley Griffith provides some particularly memorable moments in the role of Mellors (one scene that springs to mind is a great twist on some of the typical tropes of the genre), and Christina Baston brings a great goofiness & charm to Lady Chatterley. All have impeccable comic timing and a quite remarkable ability to keep a straight face!
Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the real deal – a full-on comic parody that truly subverts the genre, but in a completely original way. You’ll never see a period drama in the same way again…
My verdict? A perfectly crafted production that will induce more giggles than a dose of laughing gas – a fast-paced and hilarious take on a classic piece of literature.
Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover ran at Stockwell Playhouse on 18 November 2018.