KNOWING the dialect of the East Midlands, or mining matters of a century ago, helps but is not essential to enjoy and appreciate ‘The Daughter-in-Law’ currently on at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.
Eastwood-born novelist and playwright D. H. Lawrence never saw his 1912 play staged in his lifetime, but I’m sure he would have approved of this current production, on until 23rd March.
The play is set in a Derbyshire mining town where trouble looms ahead of a three-month strike among the local miners fighting for a minimum wage, something that is reflected in the domestic tensions of the Gascoyne family.
Pitman Luther Gascoyne (Philip McGinley) is but six weeks married in his new home, but his winter honeymoon looks shortlived when a neighbour calls to tell his mother (Lynda Baron) that because of a midsummer romantic adventure her son is the father of her daughter’s unborn baby.
This bombshell news eventually reaches the ears of the newly-wed Mrs Gascoyne, Minnie (Claire Price), a former governess who it is seems married below her status after setting her cap after Luther.
This rich mix of sexual strife and class conflict would not be out of place today were it not for the snapshot the play gives to life 100 years ago where a pit manager earned £1,200 a year, while a miner got seven shillings (35p) a day, 14 shillings a week if he was off work injured, or drawing weekly strike pay of 10 shillings (50p).
The bristling relationship between the matriarchal Mrs Gascoyne, a mother of six sons reluctant to let go of the apron strings, was more than filled by Lynda Baron who disapproved of her son’s new wife (a splendid mix of assertiveness and compassion from Claire Price) whom she thought a social climber. This rails Minnie into telling Mrs Gascoyne senior: “How is a woman to have a husband when all the men belong to their mothers.” However, an uneasy peace seemed to be in sight as they ruminated on the generation gap and the old adage -- “my son’s my son till he gets him a wife, but daughter’s my daughter all the days of her life.”
Paul Miller’s deft direction was helped by Simon Daws’ revolving set as it moved the story easily along between the homes of the two Mrs Gascoynes -- mother and daughter-in-law -- as well as taking the audience back through the years to a time where adults addressed each other as ‘Missus’ or ‘Mester’ or where a coal-blackened Luther fresh home from the pit skips a wash and puts newspaper on the seat to eat dinner.
Mansfield, Heanor and Basford, and other local towns, get a mention in Lawrence’s script, which is full of local idioms and sayings, including clat-fart for gossip and bobby-dazzler for splendid, although there were many others that went by too quickly.
This was not the case for some gems from neighbour Mrs Purdy (Marlene Sidaway) who bring news of Luther’s pre-marital dalliance and impending fatherhood, a situation that Luther’s brother, Joe (Andrew Hawley) thinks can be resolved by paying £40 to hush up the affair.
Further details of showtimes and ticket prices can be obtained from the Crucible box office on 0114 249 6000, or online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk