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The Daughter-in-Law by D H Lawrence - Manchester Library Theatre Company, at The Lowry

Published by: Caroline May on 26th Feb 2012 | View all blogs by Caroline May
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REVIEWED BY RICHARD HOWELL-JONES


Let’s get something clear from the start: this may be a play about an industrial working-class community in 1912, but no-one strides in to announce that there’s trouble at t’mill, something’s out of skew on t’ treadle, or insist that there’s nowt wrong wi’ gala luncheons, lad! Get that right out of the way, and we can begin.

D.H Lawrence’s work has multitudes of supporters and detractors, many of whom appear far more erudite that my loftiest aspiration; in any case, I’m here to discuss the production, not the literature, so we can pass by that bit as well.

Having wiped away the dust, the first stratum we encounter is a thoroughly researched and rehearsed accent. Lawrence wrote the play in Nottinghamshire dialect, but it’s clear that the cast has worked hard with their voice coach, Sally Hague, to sound natural; there are individual variations, but so there are in life; nor could I say how accurate the accent used truly is, but that’s irrelevant, as this isn’t a documentary. What is important, though, is that it commits the deadly sin of getting in the way. What is the point of having something meticulously researched if its very authenticity prevents the audience from understanding what’s going on? The Library theatre company is particularly good at re-capturing the past, but this time perhaps it’s done too well. I was by no means alone in having difficulty for the first half of the performance in understanding what had happened to whom, grabbing the words I could understand and hoping I wasn’t missing too much detail. In this respect, the performers generally didn’t help; concentrating on naturalism, they cantered, in some cases galloped, serenely through their lines, leaving us panting to keep up. But by the second half, the audience (note the focus that this word has on hearing) had caught up; I suspect also that Lawrence felt that he’d made his point and could reduce the density of the dialect. However it may be, we drill down beneath the language barrier to find a rich and rewarding seam of performance.

Lawrence’s subtle construction may make us wonder initially why some of the characters are there at all, but none is there to make weight. Of course, the community’s authority and ‘establishment’ is personified in Mrs Gascoigne, the archetypal working-class mother complete with trad. aphorisms which delighted much of the audience, competently played by Diane Fletcher. But it’s important that she’s shown to be typical and in authority and accepted as such by her peers; so Mrs Purdy, one such peer, does far more than simply arrive to start the plot off. Were we to learn of Mrs Purdy’s news by letter, for example, Mrs Gascoigne could easily be seen to be an isolated oddity, out of touch with her community; but the simple realism which Susan Twist brings to the character, so that she just is, reinforces Mrs Gascoigne with the support of that community, enabling the tremendous conflict in the third scene. This is where Natalie Grady shines as Minnie Gascoigne, the daughter-in-law, facing down the world to get the life she wants with the man she loves, combining strength and vulnerability in more than one enjoyable showdown. Her husband, Luther Gascoigne, is a passionate but weak man, a difficult combination capably performed by Alun Raglan, though the passion occasionally tested the audience’s new-found familiarity with the Notts. accent. Paul Simpson entertained as cheeky, but actually very canny, brother Joe Gascoigne, pitching his incisive comments and his sister-in-law’s crockery just right. Even the cabman (Max Calendrew) had his part to play by presaging Mrs Gascoigne’s downfall in microcosm.

The staging, I should say, consisted of two simple interior sets, convincingly dressed, one of Mrs Gascoigne’s house, the other of Luther Gascoigne’s house. But the change between them was a delightful pas-de-deux of stage management, efficient yet effortlessly and unhurriedly achieved, despite what must have been cramped conditions backstage. Jamie Byron and all his technical team should feel proud.

So this production, then, while setting out to be gritty and realistic as a chunk of coal, has achieved that other carbon structure, perhaps even more valued. The audience has to do some mental polishing to get the full brilliance, but I’m glad to say it’s worth it, for having done so one can be captivated by a little gem. (Whether it’s actually a diamond or not, I leave to you.)

Chris Honer directed.

The Daughter-in-Law, the Manchester Library Theatre Company,
at the Lowry Theatre from 23rd February to 10th March.
Tickets: 0843-208 6010
www.librarytheatre.com

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