"No, I'm not having problems understanding the dialect," offered one spectator during the interval; "I was brought up there – Lancashire." He was only some fifty miles out... Theatr Clwyd helpfully supplies a glossary of Nottinghamshire dialect terms used in D.H. Lawrence's The Daughter-In-Law, which raises its linguistic if not its dramatic comprehensibility.
Lawrence's own upbringing vividly informs the background of his play, unsurprisingly set in a Notts mining community. This is helpful as, in Di Trevis's production, the foreground story almost completely fails to engage. Matters are not helped by some twenty minutes of undiluted reporting at the beginning, nor by the fact that the woman impregnated by the feckless Luther Gascoigne never appears onstage, being represented solely by her fretful mother.
To be sure, Lawrence intended to focus on the sometimes unconscious powers of matriarchy; Luther's wife Minnie, who drives the plot, is defined in the title by her relationship to mother Gascoigne. But both their struggle and the marital rows between Luther and Minnie feel more like writerly exercises than actual drama – one thinks, "Oh, they're shouting again," instead of listening to what they shout.
Lynn Farleigh provides a strong anchor as Mrs. Gascoigne, dourly presiding over her family with the vice-like grip of Aunt Ada Doom in Cold Comfort Farm. Thomas Lockyer as Luther has little to do except alternate between obstinate bellowing and sheepish pliancy as mother and wife vie for his duty.
Victoria Finney's task is hardest: Minnie must retain both her spirit
and her independence (this is a woman who has lived and worked in cosmopolitan
Manchester and inherited the impressive sum of £120) whilst willingly
submitting to the lifestyle of the wife of a striking miner on 10/- a week
– neither caving in to Luther nor driving him away by showing too much
Finney's failure to square this circle is due less to her own performance or Trevis's direction than to the play being a bit of a clinker. Lawrence sends Minnie away to spend her inheritance so that on her return she might win Luther in a straight fight without the added temptations of Mammon, but their final reconciliation comes not so much as a dramatic climax as simply because it is time to lower the curtain. It feels like a gritty but sentimental reversal of A Doll's House, and is profoundly unsatisfying to modern tastes.
The Daughter-In-Law might work better in an intimate fringe space than in the medium-sized Emlyn Williams Theatre, but I am not convinced that it is worth the effort. As it was, the Mold audience – although speaking well of the production outside the auditorium – were noticeably slow to applaud in the performance itself, and not, I fear, because they had been stunned by its intensity.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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