Review: The Daughter-in-Law
Image: Arcola Theatre
Cast and creatives
Tessa Bell-Briggs (Mrs Purdy)
Matthew Biddulph (Joe Gascoyne)
Ellie Nunn (Minnie Gascoyne)
Veronica Roberts (Mrs Gascoyne)
Matthew Barker (Luther Gascoyne)
In Nottinghamshire, 1912, trouble is brewing in the mines - and simmering closer to home.
When Mrs Gascoyne discovers an explosive secret about her newly-married son, it risks the hard-earned security of her daughter-in-law.
But Minnie Gascoyne isn't going to settle without a fight.
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, never performed in his lifetime, entwines the struggles of a young married couple with those of a community on strike.
Following a sold-out first run, and three Off West End award nominations, The Daughter-in-Law transfers to Arcola Studio 1 for four weeks only.
Public booking opens at 12.30pm on Monday 3 September.
Arcola Supporters can book now.
This play by D. H. Lawrence had an outing at the Arcola Theatre back in May and June last year (you can read my review of that version here).
The production turned-out to be the most popular show that the venue has ever had in its smaller studio space.
Little wonder, then, that it's now getting another run, and this time in the theatre's main house which has been modified somewhat to allow seating all round the action.
For many in the audience, the experience watching this play is probably just as it was when I saw it in its previous run.
But from my perch in the front row of the balcony, I felt somewhat disconnected from the characters, and saw rather more of the tops of their heads than I might have wished for.
The popularity of the previous run is undoubtedly accounted for by the fame of the playwright and the fact that his play is rarely produced.
But the play itself is also totally engrossing, with powerful female roles and an intriguing plot with unexpected twists and turns.
The story is essentially about mothers and their sons, and the struggle a daughter-in-law faces in staking claim to her husband and wrestling possession of him from his mother's domineering influence.
Matthew Barker (Luther) and Ellie Nunn (Minnie) - photo by Idil Sukan
Luther Gascoyne, a 31 year-old miner, has only recently married his wife Minnie and they're not getting on together particularly well.
As we discover later on, for Minnie, the problem lies with the way Luther's mother has mollycoddled her sons and continues to influence Luther even though he's now living with his wife.
But another dimension to the plot appears right at the start, when Mrs Purdy informs Luther's mother and brother Joe that her daughter is carrying Luther's child.
The Daughter-in-Law is written in the dialect of Eastwood (situated between Nottingham and Derby) which D. H. Lawrence grew up with.
A handy glossary in the programme helps decipher some of the problematic idioms, though it's not so useful while the show is in progress of course.
Some of the words might confuse occasionally, but in general it doesn't interfere with the overall comprehension of the drama and, in fact, there are times when the dialect actually enhances the humour.
And there are numerous comic moments that arise naturally from the situations and the characters.
Director Jack Gamble sensibly leaves all the basics of his previous, finely-honed production in place.
The original cast are back in action, with the addition of Matthew Barker who takes over from Harry Hepple in the role of Luther Gascoyne.
Though there's first-rate playing from the entire cast, I particularly enjoyed Tessa Bell-Briggs as Mrs Purdy and Veronica Roberts as the controlling Mrs Gascoyne.
And, as Minnie, Ellie Nunn is simply superb.
Given the success of the previous run, it's not difficult to understand why the Arcola sought to give the play another airing, and in a larger auditorium.
However, though the venue has made considerable efforts to recreate the intimacy its smaller studio captured perfectly in the previous run, from my vantage point in the gallery the production definitely lost some of its edge in terms of my appreciation of the piece.
Even so, this is still a richly enjoyable description of working class life in the early twentieth century and a totally gripping play that is most definitely well-worth catching.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Arcola Theatre
Our show listing for The Daughter-in-Law
Read our reviews' policy