This GBM Productions musical version of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover originally had a limited run at the Shaftesbury Theatre, but has now been given a digital revival by Stream.Theatre. The show features music from John Robinson and book by Phil Willmott, and was directed by Sasha Regan. It seems to be the year of Chatterley, as Happy Idiot’s Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover is back on tour, and a new film version (starring The Crown‘s Emma Corrin) has also been announced.
You’re probably aware of the core storyline, and may have seen one of the myriad screen adaptations in the past, but have you read the original novel? Aside from massively over-using the word ‘penis’ (and exclusively using euphemisms rather than just saying ‘vagina’), it’s a fascinating look at class struggles in the early 20th century, with a focus on the mining industry of the midlands. Clifford Chatterley, of Wragby Hall in Derbyshire, marries Constance and heads straight off to war – unfortunately he is seriously injured in battle, returning home paralysed and installed in a wheelchair. He embarks on a literary career in subsequent years. No longer able to father a child himself, he blithely suggests to his wife that she discreetly takes a lover and has a child of her own, who he would name as heir to the Chatterley estate. Rather than finding an unsuspecting member of the aristocracy, however, Lady Chatterley finds herself drawn to Mellors (the gamekeeper) and the pair begin an affair. But is this just a means to an end for Constance – or will it amount to something more..?
This adaptation is around 90 minutes in total (with an inexplicable five-minute interval halfway through), so a hefty amount of cutting & reworking needed to be done. I certainly wouldn’t have expected an attempt at adapting the novel in its entirety, however it does feel maybe a bit too condensed; there only being six characters means they are all more tightly connected than in the novel – it does work, but it has rather the feel of a soap opera at times. Lady Chatterley’s relationship with Mellors, too, seems to come out of nowhere – the pair have barely clapped eyes on each other and they’re supposedly in love! A lot of the dialogue is quite clunky, and having a character write about Lady Ottoline Morrell (a possible inspiration for Lady Chatterley’s Lover) is unnecessary; I’d rather the time was devoted to developing the story rather than trying to be smart.
Robinson’s score is full of beautiful melodies and soaring strings, clearly pegging the piece as a romance as opposed to the more complex make-up of the source material – however, for such a short show, this kind of focus is imperative. By far my favourite aspect of the production was Andrew Exeter’s set. It’s a two-storey design, with the interior of Wragby Hall (and other locations) upstairs and the forest downstairs; not only does it allow for imaginative staging and multiple scenes to run concurrently, but it subtly hints at the class dynamics involved in the story.
The cast are very vocally impressive, executing emotive harmonies and powerful belts. Zoe Rogers definitely has the most fun as Lady Chatterley’s maid Bertha, but inevitably it’s Michael Pickering and Georgia Lennon who steal the show as the titular lover and Lady Chatterley. I would have preferred Pickering to take on the Derbyshire accent rather than sticking to his native north-east twang, but his performance opposite Lennon makes up for that; there is great chemistry between the pair, who do an excellent job of convincing the viewer that Constance and Mellors have genuine feelings for one another, in spite of the swiftness with which their relationship develops.
Overall, this musical adaptation is a reasonable introduction to the wider themes of DH Lawrence’s book, and an intriguing piece in its own right – I would just prefer it if it had a little more time to breathe and develop.
My verdict? Soaring strings and a beautiful set design are highlights in an adaptation that has possibly been cut down a bit too much – Michael Pickering and Georgia Lennon are excellent.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is screening from 15 October – 21 November 2021 on Stream.Theatre.