Here's a minor revelation, for some of us at least. The only other production I have seen of D.H. Lawrence's The Daughter-In-Law was so poor as to obscure for me the quality of the play itself, which I described in review at the time as "a bit of a clinker". David Lan's current revival for the Young Vic corrects that misapprehension, allowing the piece's virtues to stand forth solidly though not quite radiantly.
Indeed, radiance would be an odd property for a play so firmly set in a 1912 Nottinghamshire coal-mining community – even more so here, with Francis O'Connor's set design depicting the central cottage living room as a chamber hewn out of a coal seam. Lawrence roots the central contention, between matriarch Mrs Gascoyne and her feckless son Luther's uppity yet independent wife Minnie, among resolutely earthbound considerations. When Luther is discovered to have impregnated another woman (never seen onstage) prior to his marriage, Minnie is plainly at fault for insisting that they treat it as a moral issue whilst everyone else is pragmatically and non-judgmentally concerned with financial provision. Minnie's final, separate rapprochements with Luther and his mother come when she abandons her pretensions to elevation along with her £120 legacy and determines that the couple shall live on striking miner's pay of ten shillings a week.
Against and amid such a social fabric, the question at the core of the drama – "How is a woman ever to have a husband when all the men belong to their mothers?" – can never take off into airy-fairyness. As the family debates make clear, this is a matter of labour relations as much as of abstract psychology.
Marjorie Yates as Mrs Gascoyne is flinty without being tyrannical, dour but not oppressively so. Anne-Marie Duff ably steers Minnie from shrill hectoring to the same reality as the rest of the community; it's an unusual route she takes, but a deliberate and a welcome one. Paul Hilton makes Luther a bit of a weathercock, blown around by the women in his life, but never so ineffectual as to be (in my sainted mother's phrase) just a big drink of milk. Matthew Dunster turns in some finely judged rollicking as brother Joe, unmarried because secretly he's still tied to his mother's apron strings. If Lan's production does not draw us wholly into this earthy world, it certainly sets the picture out before us with clarity and firmness.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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