Robert Tanitch reviews The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd at Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, Surrey
On the very first day that Paul Miller took over as artistic director of the Orange Tree Theatre from Sam Walters, he received a letter from the Arts Council saying they would no longer be funding his theatre. It is to be hoped very much that the Arts Council will change its mind; not only because of the excellent work in the past, but also because Miller has got off to such a good start with a first-rate revival of D H Lawrence’s play.
The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd was written in 1910 and published in 1914 but not given a proper professional production until 1926 when it proved a bit too gloomy for critics and audiences. His portrayal of realistic working class life was at least forty years ahead of his time, a kitchen sink play long before there were kitchen sink plays.
Its first major production came 30 years after his death when a season of Lawrence’s plays was staged at the Royal Court in 1968 directed by Peter Gill. It was Gill’s extraordinary attention to the actual details of everyday living, which made the play so convincing; and not only the details of living, but the details of dying as well. The production did not baulk at the ritual washing of a dead man’s body.
The story is set in a mining community in Nottinghamshire in 1914. Mrs Holroyd (Ellie Piercy) had married a miner (Gyuri Sarossy), attracted by his good looks and big muscles, only to discover he is a low-minded brute. Constantly shamed and humiliated by him, she wishes he was dead.
Blakemore (Jordan Mifsud), an electrician, a tender, sincere young man, asks her to leave her husband and come away with him to Spain with her two young children. The very next day Holyroyd dies in an accident in the mine. She sees his death as a judgement on her and feels she has killed him because she wished he was dead.
Sarossy is not the big brutal drunken beast Lawrence perhaps imagined and Mifsud is somewhat stiff as Blakemore; but there are strong performances by Piercy and Polly Hemingway as her mother and the play has lost none of its impact. The Orange Tree Theatre deserves every support it can get.