INTERVIEW: Happy Idiot makes plans for Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover 2018 tour

In Features, Interviews, Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Touring by Debbie GilpinLeave a Comment

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is perhaps best known for being banned for obscenity in the UK (and several other countries) until Penguin successfully managed to publish it in the early 1960s.

D.H. Lawrence’s novel quickly sold millions of copies, and since then it has spawned various screen, stage and radio adaptations – including Happy Idiot’s parody version Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

I first saw the show as a shortened version, as part of Falling Pennies’ On The Night in November 2016:

“One of my favourite pieces of the night. A comic parody of the famous D.H. Lawrence novel, in which Clifford (Lawrence Russell) has returned from the war in a “wheely seat” and with a brand new set of legs that have been transplanted on after he lost his. The blanket is removed from his lap to reveal stockings and high heels, naturally! His wife, Constance (Leonie Spilsbury), has little awareness of what has been going on in the war and, despite Clifford’s return, is subjected to advances from Mellors (Lyle Barke). It is full of double entendre, snappy one-liners and a considerable amount of tongue-in-cheek humour – even a couple of prop malfunctions couldn’t spoil it, including Barke ending up with a new shawl to keep himself warm. Superb comic performances all round, and something I definitely want to see more of!”

Since then, it’s played several venues as a full-length production – including last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Happy Idiot has now launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for the company’s upcoming tour. So if you’d like to help support this enterprise, you can pledge however much you want to help them towards their goal – or, for set amounts, there are a range of rewards on offer.

I had a chat with artistic director Lawrence Russell about how the company came about, what made Lady Chatterley’s Lover the perfect choice of production, and why you should show them your support.

Who is Happy Idiot?
So Happy Idiot started with myself and Rebecca McClay, we formed the company at the beginning of last year, after we’d decided that we wanted to do the parody of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. So Rebecca plays Mrs Bolton, she was on on the scratch night at the On The Night which Falling Pennies did, which you came to see. Originally we just started playing around with that as an idea and then the opportunity came up to do it at the Falling Pennies night, and it seemed to get a good response so I thought: “Maybe there’s legs in this.”

I was also speaking to people at Red Rose Chain, a company where I’m associate artist, and they were saying that I should look into Arts Council funding, so I thought maybe I could do an R&D and development couple of weeks and then rehearsals and then do a three-venue mini-tour, so then started developing it from there.

Fortunately we got Arts Council funding, so did that. And then did our three venue tour and again got some nice feedback. And then we took it to Edinburgh and again got a lot more audience feedback, I think that’s one of the benefits of not getting a review for the first couple of weeks; we really focused on getting audience feedback every night after the show, that gave us a really nice load of audience feedback which we’ve now put into our YouTube videos. But it’s worked well.

Why did you decide on Lady Chatterley’s Lover?

I think I originally saw the success of shows that are working on a format of something like a well-loved either classic or a style of working, so like you have The Play That Goes Wrong and I’d also just watched The Jurassic Parks by Superbolt Theatre and seeing that way of parodying style or a classic piece of literature seemed to be particularly saleable – there’s a lot of it on the TV at the moment, so people understand the way that it works. I think that leaves it open then to parodying in a little playful, jokey way when it comes to the format. Everybody understands how it works and what are the go-to scenes, like when you see Poldark and he’s in his field of wheat, shirtless and stuff, and it’s these iconic moments that everybody rolls their eyes and goes, “Oh yeah, that’s going to be in it!”. I watched things like Hunderby, which is a series written by Julia Davis; I really enjoyed the way they parodied or took elements of the classic novel Rebecca for that show. So I thought we could do something similar with that.

They did a production of Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the BBC, and that was only about an hour and a half long; I think because of the time constraints on it a lot of things seemed to be happening very quickly, like plot points and growth of relationships, and I just found some comedy elements in that. And also the way that certain situations were revealed, like Lord Chatterley being brought back in this big army truck and then her not realising he was in a wheelchair straightaway, so just prolonging the fact that she doesn’t quite understand why he’s in a wheelchair provides a bit more humour and stupidity. So just watching that particular show, thinking about how you can twist things very slightly and make them absurd – or have people doing strange things in the background when there’s very serious conversations going on. Just having that fine line between the comedy and drama all the time.

I think with the idea of classic literature that then opens us up to doing a series; at the moment we’ve got this idea that we’re going to do a Not: A Classic series. So hopefully we’ll be coming back at some point with the next one after this.

Has anyone turned up thinking you’re doing the actual thing and got a little bit confused?

I don’t think so! But my thinking was that I always wanted it to be a very fine line between the comedy and drama. One of my friends, who helped develop it, talked about showing them the vase and then smashing the vase. So you have to make sure you show them something that’s very truthful and honest and authentic before you can then break it with the absurdity and the comedy, that sort of comic drop. I think it’s nice if people can still find the drama and truth in it as a play, so we should have those honest moments that make people think, “Oh, am I watching a serious play?”, but then I think that often provides the belly laughs when suddenly you twist it on its head. We have had some nice compliments about how it’s very truthful, and true to the novel in certain aspects; we’ve had people say, “Oh, I remember that element of it from the novel”, so I think we’ve walked that line nicely with keeping true to the novel but also making it a lot more fun and comedic.

Who are your biggest influences?

For this particularly I always loved watching Mel Brooks’ films and parodies. It’s interesting that that’s starting to come back a bit more now; there’s been more tours of The Producers and now Young Frankenstein on the West End. I loved Dracula: Dead and Loving It, which was great – it’s a source of inspiration for this period drama in the way that there’s that British nature about things. I really like the fine line that they walk with Inside No. 9 as well, these serious situations and you can get drawn in by the drama with it, then there’s the twist and something absurd can happen. So those are all great, great examples. And I think, for me, people like Mark Gatiss and The League of Gentlemen team who do the writing and performing, in comedy drama, I think that‘s the kind of career I’d love to get into, where I can easily go in between the two formats.

Image source: Happy Idiot

What have you enjoyed the most in developing this show?

I think our R&D that we did when we were first developing it. We did R&D with Laurence Pears who’s been in The Play That Goes Wrong, he’s in The Comedy About A Bank Robbery at the moment in the West End; I’ve done a few things with him before he started to go into those sort of things. I’ve known him for a while now, so it was great to work with him. Leonie Spilsbury, who I’ve worked with on a couple of things in the past, and Rebecca as well.

It can’t be easy to try and do this amidst constant cuts to arts funding – it must get really competitive?

Yeah, it is. I think we were very fortunate to get it straightaway and I think that’s put us in a good position now for going back for touring, because I think the Arts Council are keen on supporting you if they’ve already supported you once, which shows the development of your work. So fingers crossed we can get more funding for the tour – that’ll just help us make it a little bit stronger, be able to pay everybody a little bit better, and also focus on making it more accessible as well. It’ll help us do the creative captioning, integrated audio description which would be nice, to make it accessible at each venue.

Image source: Happy Idiot

What is your favourite part of the show?

I think it’s a part that I don’t perform in, because it’s when Lady Chatterley first sees Mellors out in the forest. We have this brilliant, original score made for us by Savage & Spies, who are a composer duo who usually do film soundtracks. They actually did the film soundtrack for The Human Centipede, so a bit of a jump for them! The guy who we met the most, Patrick Savage, is a violinist at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra so he’s produced some great stuff with his partner Holeg Spies.

So they’ve provided this brilliant soundtrack for us and we’ve got this moment where Mellors comes out into the forest for the first time and he’s polishing his wood and he then lays that down, slowly takes off his shirt, throws that behind him, takes a bite out of an apple, throws that behind him… And then Lady Chatterley catches him for the first time. We’ve just got all of that going on with this beautiful music in the background. So I think that’s when it’s most like how I want it to be the whole way through, just that brilliant mix of well-known ideas when it comes to performing classical literature either on stage or in a film that are really accessible for people and they can see that and think “yeah I know that scene, I’ve seen that before”, and then just being able to do that comic twist on it but playing it so truthfully that it could still work, but it’s the things that we’re doing that make it absurd. I think when we rework it in a month or so, we’ll focus on trying to bring even more of those elements forward.

Why should people make a pledge?

I guess the main thing is it will make sure we can get this very funny show on tour and hopefully make thousands of people laugh all around England. We’ve had 80-year-olds and 20-year-olds in the audience, both exploding with laughter, so it clearly makes a fun night out. And it’ll help us grow as a company as well, because then we can go to the Arts Council and show that we’ve already got a certain level of support, then make the show more accessible.

There are some great rewards on offer, so not only will we be hopefully making some otherwise dark nights in the autumn a little bit more laughter-filled, but there’s also things like saucy illustrated postcards, we’ve got some VIP tickets available and the chance to come along to the rehearsals. If you’re an actor donating we can also do showreel scenes as well which we’ll film and edit for you, and there’s even private or party cocktail classes with our Mellors who’s a bit of a cocktail expert as well!


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Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.

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Debbie Gilpin on FacebookDebbie Gilpin on RssDebbie Gilpin on Twitter
Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.

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