The Daughter-in-Law review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘an evocative revival’
DH Lawrence’s 1913 play might be titled The Daughter-in-Law, but really it’s all about mothers.
Set during the 1912 Miners Strike, the Gascoyne family rotate like planets around their central matriarch Mrs Gascoyne, while another character crucial to the plot, Bertha Purdy, is only ever represented on stage by her own mum.
Staged in-the-round, director Jack Gamble’s production summons the claustrophobia of the play’s many enclosed worlds – whether that’s mine shafts, marriages or the local community.
As the eponymous daughter-in-law, Minnie Gascoyne, Ellie Nunn radiates rage when she discovers her new husband, Luther (Harry Hepple) loves someone other than her. But it’s Mrs Gascoyne who demands attention, and Veronica Roberts makes her more than worthy of it, instilling the character with a battle-weary stoicism and old-as-time sadness.
Lawrence’s play is written in the dialogue of his own local mining area between Nottingham and Derby. It’s a feast for linguists, full of brilliantly earthy words like “clat-fart” for gossip, and “clunch” for stiff clay or shale. Language is important in other ways too, especially when Hepple’s Luther refers to his wife as “her”, injecting the single pronoun with venomous distaste.
Gamble’s production is neat, clipped and amusing in parts, but it comes a little too close to hysteria, particularly towards the end. With each shout or smash it becomes less dramatic. But it’s good at conjuring up a very specific location, one that could only have been described by a writer who knew it intimately.