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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Theatre - The Daughter-in -Law - The Crucible, Sheffield

Star rating - 7/10

DH Lawrence is not everyone's cup of tea - his views on women sometimes feel dated at best, and some of his work has certainly caused more than a raised eyebrow amongst feminists at times. But in this 1912 play, currently being revived at the Crucible by director Paul Miller, and set in a small Derbyshire mining community, it is the women who deliver the strong, even dominant roles. 

Mrs Gascoyne is very much a matriarch, but has recently had to give up her grip on her elder son Luther to his new wife Minnie. She does, however still have her younger son Joe still under her roof and her grasp. The opening scene between Joe and his mother, discussing the recent union of Luther and Minnie, is terrific. The air crackles with drama and wit, and the authentic East Midlands accents make the  scene really come alive. Lynda Barron and Andrew Hawley are both absolutely excellent in their roles, as they debate the qualities of Luther's new wife. Mrs Gascoyne does not think much of her new daughter in law at all, and mocks her airs and graces. 

But all is not well, as they learn from a visitor that Luther has, as yet unbeknownst to him, made another young woman pregnant before he got married, and the consequences of his actions now come back to haunt the whole family. This development only adds to the already tense married relationship between Luther and Minnie, each feeling unable to show their emotions to the other. Minnie is also an interesting strong female character, who possesses independent wealth and a career. Simon Daw's terrific set revolves between Mrs Gascoyne's humble home, and the more stylised new parlour of the newlyweds. 


There are substantial themes to be grappled with in what follows - the role of mothers in bringing up sons; and the relative roles of men and women in marriage. Some of Lawrence's opinions, expressed through the characters feel out of place today. Minnie twice declares that she would rather have a husband who hit her than one who did not show he cared. This does sit rather uncomfortably with our modem view of domestic violence. 


And some of the language jars in an unnecessarily shocking way - the decision to leave in the 'n' word on two occasions, when it was not really necessary to the plot at all, felt a missed opportunity and rather censorious. And despite the excellent opening scene, the play dragged slightly afterwards, with long pauses that were anything but pregnant. That's a bit of a shame as it could have been excellent, instead it being a solid production. But it did leave me thinking that DH Lawrence isn't always as bad as he has been painted, and wondering if our modern eyes always do his views justice. 



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