Jennifer Christie reviews D H Lawrence’s The Daughter-In-Law now playing a return season at London’s Arcola Theatre.
15 January 2019
D H Lawrence’s powerful play The Daughter-In-Law is now playing at The Arcola Theatre in a return season. The first run was a sold-out success and many of the original company remain.
Lawrence wrote this play in 1913 but it was neither published nor performed in his lifetime. It is one work from a vast collection of the author’s plays, novels, poetry and essays. His novel Lady Chatterly’s Lover was the most controversial work. The Daughter-In-Law is set in Eastwood near Nottingham where Lawrence grew up and the play reflects his intimate knowledge of the region and the times.
Jack Gamble has revived the play with in-the-round staging. This draws the audience in to the intense family drama which briefly turns to melodrama in the second act. In an amazing linguistic feat the cast maintain a cracking pace with the exacting rhythms required of the Midlands accent. Many of the authentic phrases and nuances of the language delight the audience whilst enveloping us further in the story.
The narrative is set against the 1912 miner’s strike but the more important story concerns the family, and the plot holds many layers and twists. It is a tale of a matriarch and the last 2 of her six sons to be married. The younger and more charismatic character, Joe may never be married and his older brother Luther has only recently married and moved from home. Minnie, his bride, is a step or 2 above him on the social scale. Luther works in the mines and Minnie was a governess but more significantly Minnie has money, a legacy from an aunt.
Both these factors cause tension between husband and wife but also between mother and daughter-in-law.
It is a grand story and one that still resonates after the 100 years since the play was written. Minnie sums it up in one line to her mother-in-law: ‘How is a woman ever to have a husband, when the men all belong to their mothers?’
Veronica Roberts excels in the role of Mrs Gascoyne, the mother. She commands sympathy and attention with a beautifully defined performance. With her in the opening scene is Matthew Biddulph, the winsome younger son. Together they create a strong relationship and prepare the ground for the coming dramas.
An unexpected visit from Mrs Purdy (Tessa Bell-Briggs) begins innocently enough with Mrs Gascoyne settling in for a pleasant evening of gossip, little knowing that the news concerns Luther. The problem with in-the-round staging is that you spend time watching an actor’s back and unfortunately in this setting Mrs Purdy sat in one position for most of her scene. I would have liked to have seen more of the strong performance that I heard.
The action then moves to the marital home of Luther and Minnie and the tension is palpable from the start. Matthew Baker as Luther is a wonderful combination of taciturn man who feels demeaned in his marriage and the little boy who hides with his brother from the realities of adult life. Baker gives Luther the right edge of vulnerability, especially in the final scenes. Ellie Nunn as Minnie has a much less direct character to play and waits until the final scene to reveal depth of the woman’s love for her husband.
The Daughter-In-Law is a fascinating drama set in a bygone era that deals with issues that strangely span the years to a seemingly expanded consciousness today. Jack Gamble’s directorial vision realizes this story with verve and charm.
Until 2 February 2019