“It’s rotten when you’re tied to a life you don’t like”
Whilst the news that the loss of its Art Council funding is a terrible blow (especially as Paul Miller’s reign as Artistic Director has barely begun), it was a little surprising for me to hear how vociferous the response was – apparently this venue is much more well-loved and well-regarded than anyone knew. Its mix of revivals of dusty half-forgotten plays and examples of the safer end of new writing has never really connected with me and so despite the best efforts of some to persuade me otherwise, it’s never become a must-see theatre for me.
And at first sight, it doesn’t appear that much has changed with Miller’s opening salvo of a DH Lawrence play that is rarely performed but looking further into his debut season, there’s much more excitement to be had – writers like Alice Birch and Alistair McDowell and directors David Mercatali and Paulette Randall suggest a realignment of the theatre to a more pleasingly contemporary aesthetic (though not exclusively, there’s still some Bernard Shaw in there) that could well see me turning into a regular.
The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd could thus be seen as something of a bridge, albeit one which is careful to take as many of the existing audience with it. Ellie Piercy’s titular character is a well-worn miner’s wife, worn down by a difficult marriage to a man who loves both his drink and his women. Gyuri Sarossy is utterly convincing as an animal of a man, the very embodiment of a certain kind of masculinity that turns out to be more fragile than he could ever conceive and the toxic atmosphere of their homestead is thrilling in its awfulness.
The one ray of light comes in the attentions of a local electrician, Jordan Mifsud’s Blackmore, and their shared attraction. They plan to escape, along with her children, but remember this is a grim northern play and so there’s little surprise held in the unravelling of the plot. Simon Daw’s detailed design looks good in the round and Miller’s direction is often astute, though there’s no hiding the fact it isn’t the strongest of plays when all is said and done.