By D H Lawrence
The Arcola, Studio 1, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8 5DL to 2 February 2019.
Mon-Sat 7.30 pm Mat Thu 3pm.
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7501 1646.
Review: William Russell 16 January.
Powerful pithead drama about a mother and sons
This fine production award winning directed by Jack Gamble seen last summer in the downstairs studio has returned for a stint in the main theatre. It deserves the transfer, although as always with transfers the production, which is in the round, worked rather better in the other house. Somehow or other the stage has now become rather cluttered with furniture and at times some of it hides the action.
The cast is the same with one exception, Matthew Barker has replaced Harry Hepple as Luther, the mother dominated miner in a difficult marriage. The play is wordy, and occasionally the action flags, but for all that it is, as I said last time, a roller coaster experience as passions rise and the mother and daughter in law clash over the hapless Luther.
Lawrence uses the dialect of the Nottingham coalfields so that at times the words are unfamiliar, but their meaning is clear enough, and the actors sound authentic – not that I would know what that should be but they do not sound as if they are reciting something they do not understand and are simply making sounds.
The performances carry the day, the women in particular being magnificent. Luther and Jo Gascoyne are in thrall to their mother, a matriarch who rules them with the inevitable rod of iron – Luther has, however, escaped into the eager arms of Minnie, a handsome young woman who has been in service, has some money of her own, speaks posh and has set up a superior home with table cloths, cutlery and nice china. They have been married seven weeks and things are not going well.
Then a Mrs Purdy turns up to see Mrs Gascoyne. Luther may be a mummy’s boy in many respects, but he has also enjoyed a fling with her willing daughter who is now pregnant. Mrs Purdy wants £40 to keep it quiet. Mrs Gascoigne thinks this is for Luther to settle.
He, and his equally in thrall to mother brother Joe, are facing up to a strike. It is 1912, the mine owners are cutting wages, troops are assembling, the workers are starting to mobilise. The clever thing about the production is this implied simply by an inspired use of background sound (Dinah Mullen) as Minnie and her mother in law clash furiously over the hapless Luther. We get the political industrial context but it is not hammered home to the detriment of the family battle which is vicious. Bitter things are said – and done.
The performances are spell binding, with Veronica Roberts catching all the ruthlessness of a parent who knows one day she will hand that son over to another woman, while Ellie Nunn as Minnie is a woman who knows there are better things in life, aspires to have them and wants Luther, weakness, as her man is every bit her mother in law in the making. Tessa Bell-Briggs as Mrs Purdy conjures up a magnificent old biddy with an eye to the main chance.
Matthew Barker’s Luther is well meaning, weak and ultimately manages to display just a hint that Minnie may not end up taking over the role his mother did in his life completely, while Matthew Biddulp is a handsome Joe, all bravura on the surface but weaker than his brother underneath, a man who threatens to emigrate to Australia but never will.
The good thing to report is that this production – the play is frequently perfomed – remains one to relish, finely acted and directed.
Luther Gascoyne: Matthew Barker.
Mrs Purdy: Tessa Bell-Briggs.
Joe Gascoyne: Matthew Biddulph.
Minnie Gascoyne: Ellie Nunn.
Mrs Gascoyne: Veronica Roberts.
Director: Jack Gamble.
Designer: Louie Whitemore.
Lighting Designer: Geoff Hense.
Sound Designer: Dinah Mullen.
Costume Supervisor: Rebecca Carpenter.
Voice & Dialect Coach: Penny Dyer.
Production photography: Idil Sukan.