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A CurtainUp London Review
The Daughter in Law
The marital problems of Luther Gasgoyne (Paul Hilton) and his wife Minnie (Anne-Marie Duff) could be those of a twenty-first century marriage. DH Lawrence's better known novels like Sons and Lovers and Women in Love, as was his life, are peopled with strong mothers and powerful women and so it is with The Daughter in Law. The dilemma is succinctly expressed by Minnie, the daughter in law of the play's title, "How is a woman to have a husband when all the men belong to their mothers?"
Lawrence's work is a blend of sexual tension and class conflict, and of struggle. Set in his native Nottinghamshire in a mining town, The Daughter in Law looks at miner Luther Gasgoyne's new marriage to socially ambitious Minnie. Mrs Gasgoyne, Luther's mother is visited by Mrs Purdy (Annette Badland) who announces that her daughter Bertha, whom we never meet, is four months pregnant by Luther. Immediately we notice that the negotiations are happening here between the mothers on behalf of their adult offspring. Minnie is perceived by her mother in law to be an unsuitable wife for Luther, mainly because of Minnie's pretensions to social refinement.
The play details the painful dissonance between Luther and Minnie. A three month strike at the pit puts the miners in money difficulties. When Minnie spends all of her inheritance so that she can become totally financially dependent on her husband, the repercussions are significant. Mrs Gasgoyne and her daughter in law at last find some common ground when the older woman relates her experience of men. The solution is that the daughter in law will become like her mother in law and so the cycle will be repeated.
The play is written in the strong dialect of Nottinghamshire, an exercise in listening until your ear can adjust to the accents and enjoy the riches of idiom. Gems like clat-fart for gossip and bobby-dazzler for remarkable or excellent. There is the contrast between the blonde, neat wife and her coal blackened husband and in their conversation. "Did you never care for me?" she wheedles, "You never wanted me. You thought me dirt." he bluntly replies. It is a sad portrayal of the human hurt that is a failing marriage.
The main performances are carefully judged, portraying this family before the Great War. Marjorie Yates gives a daunting portrait of the controlling mother. In high-necked blouse, with her hair pulled back in a bun, her features weathered, she looks severe. She is also has the tired resignation of one widowed by the industry that her sons have no choice but to join. I liked too Paul Hilton as her weak son, his posture reflecting his ineffectuality. Anne-Marie Duff switches between nagging and pleading young wife and always convinces.
Director David Lan uses the whole stage: when Luther and Minnie argue, she follows him around as he attempts to escape her recriminations, trapping him physically. Francis O'Connor's authentic house set with detailed china and wooden furniture is surrounded by black coal face and is flanked by side screens showing lit landscape and the silhouette of the mining area. Matthew Richardson has made use of oil lamps to give a soft glow to scenes at night.
The question on everyone's lips is why DH Lawrence's plays are not to be found more frequently in the theatrical repertoire?
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