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The Daughter-in-Law

By D.H. Lawrence

Library Theatre Company

The Lowry, 24 February 2012

Natalie Grady (Minnie Gascoigne) and Diane Fletcher (Mrs Gascoigne) in D.H. Lawrence’s The Daughter-in-Law.  Photo by Gerry Murray

Natalie Grady (Minnie Gascoigne) and Diane Fletcher (Mrs Gascoigne) in D.H. Lawrence’s The Daughter-in-Law. Photo by Gerry Murray

Let me see if I can do justice to what was a fantastic theatrical experience.

It begins with a seemingly inconsequential yet telling scene: a bit of banter between mother and son.  Then there’s the stock situation of a young woman having a child out of wedlock, a just-married man apparently the culprit.  Will it turn out to be a farce, is this where we’re heading?

Well, the farce and comedy rumbles on throughout, but it is never exactly central.  And instead attention now switches to the man’s marriage and his relationship with a yelping, dissatisfied wife.  There’s that twin portrait you often find in Lawrence: man as an inarticulate, pitiable beast; woman as his keeper and tormentor.

And again the gender war, in the form of guerrilla skirmishes for the most part, rumbles on and while closer to the play’s heart it’s not really key either.  Here is what’s central: the complaint of the woman who marries a man to the woman who formed him; a wife’s grievance towards her husband’s mother.

You’re aware that some kind of strike is taking place and that the army has been called in, but all this happens off-stage.  It’s not what the play is about.  It’s about the world of women; and it is an extraordinary play for a man to have written.  All the women are capable, fierce and for the most part self-assured.  As to the men, they are a kind of material passed from generation to generation that these women must somehow work with: make do and mend. 

The final scene is, well, sublime and it offers a solution to that old Arthurian riddle: ‘What is it that a woman desires most in all the world?’  Everything that precedes this final scene is thereby justified; such is its power.

Downsides are few.  The dialect may be bothersome to some, an obstacle to understanding.  Yet despite the theme being pretty much universal, that’s the way Lawrence chose to write it.  Call it arrogance or artistic ambition, if you will.  A small warning: the ‘N word’ makes an appearance, but it’s not used pejoratively (the play was written in 1913).

The Daughter-in-Law is an important play and, in Lawrence’s canon, it’s an essential companion piece to Sons and Lovers.  And this is another one of those stupendously good, must-see productions that the Library Theatre seem to specialise in.

The Daughter-in-Law is at The Lowry until 10 March, and further details can be found either here or here.