The Daughter-in-Law at Arcola Theatre
Who is the true ruler of the house, the man or the woman? And what if it is the mother-in-law? Gender equality has been very much in the news recently, but it has been a rather controversial subject for ages, even in ways we would have not expected. For example, there has always been an unbalance in the emotional dominance among family members. One of the least-performed plays by D H Lawrence, The Daughter-in-Law, portrays these tense relationships, focusing on family, marriage, and money matters in an old collier’s house. Now playing at the Arcola Theatre, Jack Gamble’s production is a gem not to be missed.
Luther and Joe Gascoyne (Harry Hepple and Matthew Biddulph) have been raised, and are extremely cared for, by their mother (Veronica Roberts). The happy trio breaks when the young and active Minnie (Ellie Nunn) asks one of the two sons to tie the knot. With the 1912 strike raging in the background, the first weeks of marriage pose daily challenges, along with the revelation of a woman expecting a baby by Luther and the insurmountable emotional bond the mother figure has with her sons.
The key feature of this production is the complete preservation of the original script. This allows the dialect, as Lawrence used to hear in his own household in Eastwood, to permeate every scene, adding colour and depth to every sequence. The set design and the costumes help to perfectly recreate that rural and poor atmosphere miners lived in in English villages – far from bustling London – and is a good reminder of the isolation experienced and still faced today in those areas.
The downside of this artistic choice is the length of the dialogues, or rather, of the monologues, which are made heavier by the old vocabulary. The lines of exchange between the characters are quite long, with some sentimental exchanges needing to be followed with extra attention.
What remedies it all, however, are the outstanding performances of the two female leads. Roberts and Nunn interpret strong characters, now pretending their exclusive right to the grown-up child, now defending their matriarchal influence over the family. They are fierce women, only economically ruled by men, as for all else they surpass them in reasoning and feelings.
The Daughter-in-Law presents an intense battleground. At times, it is very wordy, and there are very few real moments of action. The stage of the Arcola, granting a 360-degree view, though, allows the audience to follow every single movement, every step, eliminating the risk of an excessively still show.
Photo: Idil Sukan
The Daughter-in-Law is at Arcola Theatre from 23rd May until 23rd June 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.