Sheffield Theatres' production of DH Lawrence's Daughter-in-Law sees Paul Miller returning to directing in the Crucible Theatre after last year's successful Democracy, which transferred to the Old Vic.
The play sees the return of two actors who are becoming regular presences on the Sheffield stages: Claire Price as Minnie, the daughter-in-law of the title, and Philip McGinley as her husband Luther. Joining them are Lynda Baron as Luther's mother, Mrs Gascoyne, Andrew Hawley as brother Joe and Marlene Sidaway as Mrs Purdy. David Chafer offers support as the Cabman.
The play centres on the relationships between Minnie, her husband and his family, as they come to terms with some shocking news that threatens to change the family dynamic for ever. Whilst it deals with some potentially difficult emotional themes, this is actually a very funny play and the characters are delivered with warmth by the cast. The regional dialect may be difficult for some audience members to adjust to at first (particularly in the opening scene where Hawley's Joe is talking whilst eating) but it makes the humour feel more naturalistic. Price and McGinley as the central couple are captivating to watch, clearly showing the exasperation of their characters with each other and with themselves as they try to negotiate why they ever married in the first place and what their future might be. Baron provides a lot of humour as Mrs Gascoyne yet, in the second half in particular, shows the vulnerability beneath the bluster.
Simon Daw's set design is a revolving set (Minne and Luther's house on one side; Mrs Gascoyne and Joe's on the other) designed as a cutaway section of houses, utilising period furniture, props and fireplaces to emphasise the differences between the two homes. Mark Doubleday's lighting design is subtle and effective, reflecting changes in both mood and time of day, whilst Terry Davies has composed incidental music to support scene changes that hints at the disquiet beneath.
Lawrence's play is very funny and warm, with great characters, although one major plot point remains largely unresolved at the end. It is also worth noting that the two halves are of very different lengths (almost an hour and a half for act one, just over half an hour for act two), which reflects a clear tonal shift in the play, as well as providing a clean break between acts 1 and 2 and acts 3 and 4 - however, some of the audience seemed to be grumbling a little at the disparity in the length of the two sections.
Despite these small quibbles with the material, this is a strong production that is well acted, directed and designed.
The Daughter-in-Law is at The Crucible, Sheffield until Sat 23 March
Photograph by Robert Day