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LAWRENCE – Bridewell Theatre, London.

lawrenceThe author and playwright DH Lawrence was quite a character. In the early part of the 20th Century he fought against his mining background in Nottingham and became one of the most controversial men of his day. Crude and overtly sexual he had numerous affairs with both men and women and died before his greatest work Lady Chatterley’s Lover was even published. All of this sounds like juicy material for a stage show and the writers of Lawrence clearly agree with this musical adaptation of his life story.

The authors seem content on turning this basic tale of a Northern man who writes dirty books into some sort of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Lawrence is constantly referred to as a phoenix rising from the ashes. A reference that is repeated infinitely at the end of the show in a death scene which goes on for longer than forever and even includes a megamix of all the banal love ballads we’ve just been subjected to for the past 3 hours. The lyrics are brilliantly bad (“I’m the best suffragette you’ve ever met”) and the songs are endless, with over 17 in Act 1 alone. In the redundant Act 2 the writers appear to have run out of musical ideas which results in countless ‘Song that Goes Like This’-esque love ballads between Lawrence and his wife Freda. Yes. We get it. They love each other. Even a scene in which the couple finally display real passion and argue (dialogue includes the smashing “There’s nothing wrong with my cock!”…Mmm you wouldn’t find that in Les Mis) is then disappointingly concluded with a syrupy love ballad.

The brilliantly named Bart Shotto portrays the Christ-like DH Lawrence, and although he tries his best he simply isn’t believable as a Nottingham native, with an accent that travels from Liverpool over the Irish Sea and back to Yorkshire in a single sentence. He also lacks the charisma and sex appeal that the authors keep telling us he has, and doesn’t have the charm to pull off Lawrence’s apparent naughtiness. The scene in which he pretends to defecate in front of a room of literary scholars made me wince in its sheer awfulness.

The ensemble work hard playing multiple roles but one can’t help but share in their embarrassment as they are forced to sing such gems as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I’ve read it from cover to cover” and parade around the stage acting as demented demons intent on burning Lawrence’s books. I’m just glad they stopped short of a crucifixion.

In reality Lawrence’s works are not worthy of the praise given to them here. In their essence they were light pornography and the man himself a rather crude and seedy individual. I’m not even sure that DH Lawrence is worthy of a stage musical and can’t help but feel that the authors should move on and try doing something else. Even a musical about the making of this musical (which according to the programme notes has had a long gestation period) may be a more interesting piece. As it stands Lawrence is of the ‘so bad it’s almost good’ variety and like its long deceased inspiration, should be put to rest.

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Reviewed 24/10/13

By Rory Maxwell

22nd – 26th Oct 2013
Bridewell Theatre, London, EC4.

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