The 'Idiots' happy to bring their parody of Lady Chatterley's Lover to Rhodes
A theatre company of self-styled 'idiots' is bringing its parody of D.H. Lawrence's most famous novel to Bishop's Stortford.
Four actors from Happy Idiot Productions, based in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, inject wit and humour into their steamy costume drama, Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
There will be long contemplative looks into the middle distance, moments of touching drama, an abundance of farcical comedy and a gentle stroke of innuendo.
Lawrence Russell, a founder of Happy Idiot Productions, wrote the play, which was first published privately in 1928 and was not published openly in the UK until 1960, when it was the subject of a watershed obscenity trial against the publisher Penguin Books.
Penguin won the case and quickly sold three million copies of the book, which became notorious for its story of the love and lust between working-class gamekeeper Oliver Mellors and upper-class Lady Constance Chatterley, including explicit descriptions of sex.
“The key points of the novel are in there, but of course there are a few twists to draw out or highlight the comedy,” said Lawrence.
“I spent a fair bit of time researching the various presentations of the story – on film, stage and the novel itself – and there’s a pattern which emerges in terms of the same sections which are cut. We’ve followed a similar format so that we can keep the pace and make it work with the cast of four.”
Lawrence plays Lord Clifford Chatterley. For the role, the 31-year-old has drawn inspiration from Leslie Neilsen’s characters in The Naked Gun and Airplane! Think stiff-upper-lipped, straight delivery that is undercut by the comedy of the line or situation.
Christina Baston, the newest member of the Happy Idiot troupe, plays his wife, Lady Chatterley. Lawrence said: “She has a lot of experience with parodies of classics and will bring a great range in Lady Chatterley, from playing the truth of the drama, to physical comedy, to some surprise moments that we’ll leave until the show.”
Rebecca McClay, a co-founder of Happy Idiot Productions, plays Lord Chatterley’s nurse, Mrs Bolton. “Becca delivers a beautifully blank politeness in the emotionally strained world that Lord and Lady Chatterley have created,” Lawrence said. “She presses on hilariously with anything that Lord Chatterley throws at her.”
The fourth member of the cast is Wesley Griffith, who plays Mellors.
“Wes has the washboard abs and misty-eyed looks into the middle distance that would fit perfectly with a BBC costume drama,” Lawrence said. “This makes it all the more hilarious when we twist the text or situation to draw out the comedy.”
The company was officially formed in January 2017, but Lawrence, Rebecca, and Ben Simpson, who directs the production, had worked together on various short films under the guise of Happy Idiot.
Lady Constance Chatterley welcomes home her husband, Clifford, from a war that has left the world in tatters.
Clifford’s legs are also in tatters, and he arrives at Wragby Hall confined to a wheelchair and clutching his secret.
Despite her husband’s impotence, a subject that all struggle to avoid, Constance entertains the idea that one day they could have a child.
However, with Clifford’s obsession for his industrial pursuits, Constance ventures into a passionate, sexual and curiously experimental affair with the estate gamekeeper, Mellors.
Lawrence has been developing Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover since November 2016. After the company formally came together, the creative team took it to the Arcola Theatre, an off-West End venue, for a scratch showing, where actors and writers share their ideas with the public at an early stage of development.
Lawrence recalled: “We felt we had a good concept for Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover so decided to develop the script further and apply for Arts Council funding for R&D (research and development) and a three-venue tour.
“With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, private investors, the Pimlott Foundation and Red Rose Chain Theatre Company, where I am associate artist, we got Arts Council funding.”
Happy Idiot Productions took the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year for the whole of August.
“It was our first time there as a company,” Lawrence said. “All of the cast had performed in Edinburgh before so did brilliantly coping with the whole process.
“It takes a lot mentally and physically with all the elements outside of the show itself and they were great – we were even unofficially known as the nicest company by the people running our venue.”
The show was a hit. Emily Lawford, reviewing it for EdFringe, wrote: “The pace is watertight and the comic timing is perfect.”
The company interviewed members of the audience after their shows and put the resulting video – theatregoers of all ages gushing about how much they enjoyed the production – on its website, www.happyidiot.co.uk.
The next stage in the Happy Idiots’ journey is an October and November tour when, over the course of three weeks, they will visit 15 venues all over the UK.
The production is the first in Happy Idiot Productions’ Not: A Classic Series. “There are a few in the pipeline,” Lawrence teased, without giving anything away.
* Catch Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover at Rhodes Arts Complex on Wednesday, October 24 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £14 (concessions £12). Contains scenes of a sexual nature and strong language.