- Songs for the West End and Rananim
D. H. Lawrence is not the most likely figure in the English canon to have had a musical dedicated to his life. Yet we live in an unlikely world. Lorenzo and Lady C (2017) is framed by R v Penguin Books Ltd, the watershed 1960 case which led in the same year to the first legal unexpurgated publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) in the UK. It then flashes back to tell his story, 'From humble beginnings as a Nottinghamshire miner's son', through his 'profoundly moving and turbulent public love affair with Frieda von Richtofen' and onwards into his novels, travels, troubles with the law, and his worsening tuberculosis. The musical ends with Lawrence 'glimps[ing] a future where he will at last be recognised as one of the greatest English novelists of the 20th century' and the Old Bailey issuing the 'Not Guilty' verdict. This moment 'sets the stage for a new beginning where the spirit of D. H. Lawrence is vindicated and proudly proclaims: "I will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of my life."'1
Lorenzo and Lady C has gone through several incarnations. The brainchild of composer, lyricist, and part-book writer Glyn Bailey, it was first performed in 2000 in Lawrence's home town of Eastwood, Nottingham, under the title Country of My Heart. This dramatised concert version was built out into a full musical by the Guildford School of Acting in 2006, under the title Phoenix. With further development, and a name change [End Page 377] to Scandalous!, it was performed again at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2008, with an eighteen-strong cast and an eight-piece orchestra. It had a West End debut in 2013, four years before reaching its current iteration.2
Catherine Brown, who reviewed the 2013 version of the musical, expressed many of my own first thoughts on reading of Lorenzo: particularly, I shared her 'incredulity'. Her review, overall, is positive, saying that it was 'moving' to see Lawrence's life celebrated on stage, particularly in his final moment of rising from the ashes. Yet she also points up some of the things the musical simplifies or elides. First, she questions the fairness of the generic Anglican Priest character who leads the moral attack on Lawrence, when 'The Church of England was not at the forefront of condemnations of Lawrence during his life or since, and John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, spoke bravely for Lady Chatterley's Lover at its trial'. Second, she points out the problem with Lorenzo's critical history of Lawrence in three acts: that is, from rejection in life, to vindication by the Chatterley trial, to all being right with the world. This narrative ignores that 'The battle which Lawrence's reputation has had to fight for the last four decades – and is still not winning – is the 1970s second wave feminist critique'. Brown's 'incredulity', though, is projected at the general idea of a musical about Lawrence, saying that, although he took on many roles across a truncated life, 'creator, analyst, preacher, theologian, satirist, painter, and writer of all the major genres', he was 'never a musician'.3
This last point is not quite correct. A piano took pride of place in Lawrence's childhood home,4 and he was a good singer who, despite the brooding image his fiction tends to imply, was happy to muck in with 'charades and songs'.5 Hymns were thick in the texture of his early life, Lawrence having grown up in a congregational chapel,6 and it was a moment of sacerdotal music which led him to imagine his utopian community of Rananim. In her memory of a 1915 Christmas party at Chesham, Buckinghamshire, Frieda Lawrence recollected: 'Campbell and Koteliansky and the Murrys came, and Gertler and the [End Page 378] Cannans … We danced on the shaky floor … Koteliansky sang soulfully his Hebrew song: "Ranani Sadekim Badanoi"'7 – probably, a setting of Psalm 33.8 On 3 January 1915, Frieda's husband would send him...