Review: The Daughter-in-Law

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Sheffield Crucible

A sumptuous set. Lighting design that is so good that you almost take it for granted and the brilliance of it only hits you in retrospect. Acting that is absolutely top notch and a director who knows this stage and marshalls the action with total efficiency.

Then there’s a script, written by none other than DH Lawrence himself.

Why don’t these elements add up to a brilliant piece of theatre? There is the feeling that it’s all very, well, efficient. The efficiency means it is perhaps lacking that ineffable spark that pushes a piece of theatre beyond the stage and into the laps of the audience.

But the real issue with The Daughter-In-Law is the anachronism of the whole thing. It’s easy to sit there and let the whole thing wash over you, impressed, but unconvinced that there is a compelling reason for the piece to be re-staged or for this story to be told.

Written by the author of Sons and Lovers, Women in Love and perhaps most famously Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the author is in command of the subtleties of human relationships. But there is little to be done to stop the story of a mining family, the eldest son of which has got an unmarried woman in the town ‘in the family way’, feeling like a museum piece.

It’s not just the occasionally impenetrable period accents that cause the problem, some of the language, while absolutely authentic, is a little troublesome.

If theatre can’t tell us something new, or at least reflect something back to us that remains relevant, then is it worth its place?

The Daughter-In-Law, written in 1912 before Lawrence had fully conquered the literary world, tells the story of Mrs Gascoyne and her two miner sons Joe, the younger who still lives at home and Luther, seven weeks married to Minnie. Why they are married is a mystery – the contempt between the two is palpable. A resolution at the close in their relationship is as unconvincing as it is unpalatable.

Luther has been fooling around with a girl in the town, she has fallen pregnant and this secret threatens the new, unhappy marriage. Why should we care that an unhappy marriage is threatened? Why should we care that a domineering matriarch is threatened with the loss of her sons?

The answers to these questions are not particularly obvious. Nor, unfortunately, are the reasons for stories to be still told on our stages.

To March 23.