D H Lawrence
Library Theatre Company
The Lowry, Salford
The Library Theatre Company is opening its 2012 season with a rare production of a play by D H Lawrence, a domestic drama set in Nottingham in 1912 against the backdrop of the National Coal Strike.
The play opens in Mrs Gascoine's house, where her son Joe has just told her he has been refused compensation for his broken arm sustained at work at the mine, but worse news is to come from neighbour Mrs Purdy whose daughter has fallen pregnant to Joe's brother Luther, who was only recently married. The circumstances of Luther's courtship and subsequent marriage, related at length by Mrs Gascoine in a speech of rather clumsy exposition that goes on for pages, are rather odd, and his wife Minnie—the daughter-in-law of the title—worked in service and inherited some money and they all believe she looks down on the rest of them.
We get to judge for ourselves in the second scene as the stage is transformed with the sounds of pit machinery into Minnie and Luther's kitchen, where Joe tries to get rid of Minnie before Mrs Purdy arrives. Minnie speaks to Luther as though he were a child, chiding him for everything he does and tutting at all of his little habits. Of course Minnie does find out eventually and the marriage begins to crumble, with Luther refusing to take anything from Minnie or have her do anything for him and Minnie threatening to go back to her job in service.
There is nothing subtle about the way Lawrence introduces and debates the issues in his play. The miners' view that they have to fight for pay and conditions and to save their jobs is countered with Minnie's view that anyone can advance themselves if they work hard enough. The main issue, though, seems to be over the mother's treatment of her sons, and whether her close mothering has prevented them from every truly giving themselves to a wife. The issues are aired simply through lengthy arguments.
But while it lacks subtlety in its construction and has some scenes and speeches that are rather too long and repetitive, there is a surprising amount of humour in this play, and characters that you can really care about. It is written in a very thick Nottingham dialect that at times is like a foreign language, but once you tune your ear to it there are some wonderful old-fashioned words and expressions, particularly from Mrs Gascoine.
In the title role, Natalie Grady gets the character of the strong woman with higher pretensions and a few hidden vulnerabilities just about spot on, but the stand-out performance for me is Alun Raglan as her not-too-bright but lovable husband whose speech is not always comprehensible but is totally convincing.
Regular, reliable Library performers Paul Simpson and Susan Twist turn in good performances as Joe and Mrs Purdy. Diane Fletcher seemed to be struggling with the extremes of the dialect at the beginning, but she establishes the matriarchal character firmly and gives the play a moving conclusion.
The Library has revived a play that certainly can't be said to be a lost masterpiece but has a great deal to commend it with a strong evocation of a particular time and place when great changes were about to happen.
Reviewer: David Chadderton