12 September 2014

The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd at the Orange Tree theatre was more of the same

With a new artistic director, Paul Miller succeeding Sam Walters after forty years, I was both expecting and hoping for more change than was apparent on the first production of the new season.

Changes had been made to the bar area with stools replacing the long bench, to the booking system with numbered sets replacing free-seating and to the theatre with a fresh coat of paint and a raised stage. I do not know if the raised stage was just for this show or whether it is a permanent feature but I am fairly certain that I do not like it because of the need to look upwards and the restricted foot space.

There was no change to the programme, however. The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd was a little known play by DH Lawrence set in the Nottinghamshire mining community in 1914. There is nothing wrong with historical plays per se but when the point of the play is comment on the then current times then this does not always translate well to modern times.

I started to struggle with the play in the first minute when Mrs Holroyd appeared with the washing and started to load the clothes horse. She was clearly not used to doing so and made something of a mess of it, something that should have been picked up by the director during rehearsals.

Mrs Holroyd was a much put-upon wife who was left at home to do the skivvying while her husband was out drinking and wenching. An admirer was floating around but she stuck to the social rules.

I spent some time working in Nottingham mining district (not in a mine, obviously) and so had some familiarity with the accent, which is not unlike the way that a Yorkshire accent is usually presented. That helped me to understand Mr Holroyd and the two children.As this was a small community I would have expected everybody to have the same accent but some of the cast struggled with that and there were even touches of Brum in the mix.

The play was very much in two halves, and deliberately so. In the first we saw the hard life led by Mrs Holroyd and they way she was dominated by her husband. They argued loudly and often but there seemed to be no hope for Mrs Holroyd and all our sympathies were with here.

After the interval came the expected Widowing of Mrs Holroyd with Mr Holroyd being killed in a mining accident.

The mood of the play changed too. We got new perspectives on Mr Holroyd from his colleagues and mother. They might not have excused his behaviour towards his wife but they came some way towards explaining it as we learnt more about the harsh and brutal life of a miner.

The point of the play seemed to be to explain how it was grim up North and while that may have been news when the play was written it was not to the Richmond audience and I think that made the play sort of pointless.

In its favour, accents apart, the acting was of the usual high standard and there was plenty of meat in the vigorous dialogues to chew on. The play was gripping and emotional, and that made it entertaining, even if it did not really go anywhere or say anything.

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