Reviews Sheffield Published 7 March 2013

The Daughter-in-Law

Crucible Theatre ⋄ 27th February - 23rd March 2013

Table talk.

Peter Kirwan

D.H. Lawrence’s first play, though written in 1912, was not staged until the 1960s but is now receiving its second major production in just over a year (following 2012’s well-received staging in Manchester).

Paul Miller’s production aims to capture not just the distinctive East Midlands dialect, but the loaded silences at the play’s heart. In a spirit of veneration for the text, Simon Daw’s set revels in its period detail. Characters clatter dishes, lay newspaper to catch coal dust and pour endless jugs of water: for cooking, for washing up, for the coal miner Luther to clean himself finally after his initial insistence that he eat first. In a painfully long sequence, Luther slowly transforms himself from the ‘stranger’ to which his wife is drawn to the awkward, feckless philanderer beneath.

In a play in which almost nothing happens (a marriage wobbles when it transpires that the husband has impregnated a local girl), it is the detail of the interactions that needs to emerge. While the play is often spoken of as a precursor to kitchen sink drama, it also owes a great deal to Ibsen and Chekhov in its treatment of class divisions and the closed ranks of a family.

Claire Price’s Minnie, the titular daughter-in-law, is better educated than her husband and devoted to her china, to the admiration of the gossiping Mrs Purdy. Yet into this immaculate home step her husband Luther and his brother, Joe, who promptly and maliciously allows two of her plates to slip from his hands.

The Gascoyne family, dominated by the matriarch Lynda Baron, have an excellent facility with Lawrence’s dialect, the brisk clip of which drives the sense of rigid patterns and unspoken undercurrents. Price’s strength is in her clarity of speech as she attempts to get clear answers from her in-laws and uncover the cause of her husband’s anxiety. The hardy Gascoynes are challenged throughout by Minnie’s self-determination, and there is much humour to be found in the scene where Minnie reveals the prints on which she has spent an obscene amount of money.

Yet while the work with language is strong, the staging is essentially inert. In its slavish adherence to Lawrence’s words and an attempt at period naturalism, the play is soporifically static, and moments of physical intervention such as Minnie punching Joe in his wounded arm are awkwardly stagy. At this performance, the relief to the monotony when a prop momentarily caught fire and the production was halted was palpable.

The actors are most comfortable when sitting at a table conversing, but across four acts this quickly becomes wearisome, with little variety and an earnestness to the arguments that lacks depth. The background context of pit strikes is lost entirely, only the distant whine of engines giving a real sense of the outside world before the men stagger home drunkenly. When the production ends in sudden reconciliation, one is again reminded of Ibsen – but the unsatisfactory, alternative ‘happy’ ending of The Doll’s House rather than that play’s incisive social commentary.

Miller’s production is at its strongest in the moments of confrontation, including a captivating climax to the first act as Luther drunkenly and callously admits his affair and Minnie responds by lashing out at his laziness and devotion to his mother; and a moving scene in which Minnie pleads to the clammed-up Mrs Gascoyne for her to allow her sons space to love someone else. Ultimately, though, the ambition of both play and production is lacking; there is little to be drawn from this particular slice of life. As an outing for Lawrence’s text the play has its merits, but it needs much more intervention than mere recital.

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Peter Kirwan

Peter Kirwan is an editor, reviewer and academic, originally from the Wirral and now based at the University of Nottingham. He specialises in the contemporary performance of early modern drama and is the author of Shakespeare and the Idea of Apocrypha (Cambridge, 2015). He is currently writing a book on Cheek by Jowl, and writes The Bardathon review blog.

The Daughter-in-Law Show Info


Directed by Paul Miller

Written by DH Lawrence

Cast includes Claire Price, Philip McGinley, Andrew Hawley, Lynda Baron, Marlene Sidaway, David Chafer

Link http://sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/

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