Wednesday 16 January 2019

The Daughter-in-Law @ The Arcola Theatre

The Daughter-in-Law @ The Arcola Theatre

D.H. Lawrence is best remembered for his novels and poetry but he wrote a number of plays too, most of which weren’t performed in his lifetime. Indeed, The Daughter-in-Law was first performed in 1967, some 54 years after he wrote it. Though unpopular back in 1913, it is exemplary of his style of working-class British drama and, far from a dusty period piece, remains insightful to this day.

This particular production, directed by Jack Gamble, returns to the Arcola Theatre following success last year. Louie Whitemore’s set places the dining table at the centre as emblematic of this family drama that somewhat foreshadows the kitchen sink realism of the 50s and 60s; much of the play occurs at dinnertime, the core of family life. And it’s the female characters – the matriarchs who run the household and cook said dinner – who dominate throughout the narrative.

The plot is a relatively straightforward tale of a husband cheating on his wife and the fallout of his philandering. There are secret plans to provide money to the ‘other woman’; women suffocated by misogynistic views; and boisterous adult men molly-coddled by their mother. The bonds of marriage are in competition with a mother’s overbearing love for her sons.

It’s set to the backdrop of the 1912 miners’ strike that adds another layer of friction. This is a working class family struggling financially, the men pressured to bring in a salary, the women pressured to make ends meet. Yet what’s remarkable is how relevant it all is. This is the sort of drama that wouldn’t be out of place today (minus the mining part), only proving the universality of Lawrence’s themes. He was a writer ahead of his time as he explores a pathetic masculinity, upturns traditional gender roles, and interrogates the nature of marriage. The lesson at the heart of the play is that marriage is based on trust.

The script is written phonetically in a dialect Lawrence had grown up hearing in his home of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. It is initially tough to tune into, but the use of specific sayings, quirks and metaphors brings authentic character to the drama and a sense of familial warmth as they banter around the dining table. Props too to the cast who speak Lawrence’s words with clarity, and to dialect coach Penny Dyer. As the titular daughter-in-law Minnie Gascoyne, Ellie Nunn offers an assured performance that deftly handles the character’s swings from frustration to desperation and, eventually, overwhelming love for her husband. Tessa Bell-Briggs charms as the bumbling Mrs Purdy, and Veronica Roberts is a perpetually flustered mother as Mrs Gascoyne.

The pace plods a little, but this simultaneously allows us to settle into the language and relish both the play’s humour and high drama. This is a layered piece, presented with lucidity and attention to detail, that will resonate with a new audience.


Watch: The Daughter-in-Law runs at the Arcola theatre until 2nd February.

The Daughter-in-Law @ The Arcola Theatre

The Daughter-in-Law @ The Arcola Theatre
Photos: Idil Sukan