Review: The Daughter-in-Law
Cast and creatives
Tessa Bell-Briggs - Mrs Purdy
Matthew Biddulph - Joe Gascoyne
Harry Hepple - Luther Gascoyne
Ellie Nunn - Minnie Gascoyne
Veronica Roberts - Mrs Gascoyne
"Children they are, these men, but my word, they're revengeful children."
Minnie has big ambitions for her new marriage to Luther Gascoyne, but Luther's mother Mrs Gascoyne has ideas of her own.
When she discovers explosive news about one of Luther's old flames, Mrs Gascoyne shakes the foundations of her daughter-in-law's new life.
The battle-lines are drawn for an emotional struggle that could tear the whole family apart.
Set in the heat of the 1912 miners' strike, The Daughter-in-Law is a searing and unforgettable drama about heartache, inequality and the ties that bind.
D H Lawrence's groundbreaking play receives its first London staging in over 15 years.
Note: there will be a post-show discussion on Thursday 31 May with the director and members of the company.
Free for same-day ticket-holders.
Set in the mining village of Eastwood between Nottingham and Derby, this rarely-produced play by D. H. Lawrence poses something of a problem for both actors and the audience.
It's authentically written in the distinctive dialect (East Midlands English) that the playwright grew-up with, and that means that the dialogue has many words which, to Southern-bred folk at least, will sound mysterious and, possibly, incomprehensible.
It's a challenge too for the actors, who have to come to terms with sentences that don't always easily trip off the tongue.
Words like "tha" and "thou" replace "you" for example, "busy" becomes "throng" and a gossip is a "clat-fart", among many other quirky expressions.
For a Yorkshire born and raised man like myself, much is surprisingly familiar, even if there's some significant mileage between my home town in West Yorkshire and Lawrence's Eastwood.
But though there are certainly words which might perplex some audience members at times, the gist is still perfectly accessible for most, I would think.
And the actors cope admirably with the linguistic trial, making the dialogue flow easily and naturally right the way through the piece.
It's rather sad that Lawrence's play isn't given more frequent airings for it covers many social issues that still have considerable relevance.
Apparently, the playwright described his work as "neither tragedy nor a comedy - just ordinary".
That description hardly does this striking drama justice, because what it actually does is to find tragedy and comedy in the ordinary, everyday lives of the people it depicts and makes it, at least in my view, one of the most significant dramas of its day and still one of the most watchable you're likely to see.
Playing in the round, the action takes place in the homes of two families in a small mining village where everyone knows everyone else, and everyone mostly knows everyone else's business.
In the background of all that goes on is a looming miners' strike, the harbinger of difficult times to come where families may have to survive on the charity of the Methodist Chapel, and meagre strike pay.
Ellie Nunn (Minnie), Harry Hepple (Luther) - photo by Idil-Sukan
That, however, is the bigger picture in a play that really concentrates on miner Luther Gascoyne and his wife of just a few weeks, Minnie.
But the action begins in the home of Luther's mother where his brother, Joe, also still resides.
Interrupting a discussion about Joe's recent accident in the pit, Mrs Purdy arrives with the news that her daughter is pregnant with Luther's child.
Having only been married for just a few weeks, there's consternation in the Gascoyne household at this news and the potential for it getting spread out to the wider community.
Mrs Purdy, however, is willing to be reasonable and hush the matter up if she is recompensed with the (at the time, inordinate) sum of £40.
When Luther is told the news, his already tenuous relationship with his new bride is put under further strain.
For Minnie has amassed some savings during her time in service and Luther is unwilling to use her money to pay-off Mrs Purdy.
Louie Whitemore's simple but effective design incorporates a homely table and chairs sitting centre stage and an old iron cooking range off to the side - which figures rather more prominently as a means of destruction in the second half.
Director Jack Gamble elicits polished and totally believable performances from the entire cast.
Veronica Roberts and Tessa Bell-Briggs both find the perfect pitch to describe two older women who, though hardened by the trials of breadline existences, nevertheless are also neighbourly, reasonable and understanding, even if they can't quite let go of their grown-up male offspring.
Ellie Nunn is hugely impressive as Minnie, a woman who seems initially to be uncaring and somewhat domineering but later proves able to use her strength, wit and imagination to keep the man she obviously loves and desires.
At times, Harry Hepple's Luther seems almost child-like, becoming bewildered and morose when faced with the loss of a woman who might have cared for him and a wife who seems more of a threat than a comforting dependent, largely because her substantial savings have driven a wedge between them.
And Matthew Biddulph provides excellent support as Luther's chipper brother Joe.
D. H. Lawrence's powerful and evocative drama not only documents the working class lives of a small, otherwise unsung mining community, but also tackles significant issues such as class, the divisive influence of money and the strength of women in a largely matriarchal society.
And it's still enjoyably gripping stuff - highly recommended.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Arcola Theatre
Our show listing for The Daughter-in-Law
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