As a fan of D.H. Lawrence’s novels, I was intrigued to hear that he also wrote a play, The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, and that it would be staged in the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. I took advantage of the £10 Under 30 ticket scheme and the new ability to select your own seat – much better than the old method of queuing up from half an hour before the show just to get a decent seat.
The play is set in the mining community of Nottingham, where Mrs Holroyd struggles to cope in the face of her husband’s behaviour: getting drunk, spending money, bringing home not-very-respectable ladies, and being violent. She wishes he were dead, and that she could run away with her younger but more responsible neighbour, who is in love with her. But when she gets what she wants, is she happy?
The play skilfully examines the complexities of love: Lizzie Holroyd wants to leave her husband, yet it is clear that she still loves and cares for him. Similarly, her feelings towards her young neighbour are complex. Ellie Piercy gives a stunning performance: worn down with care, she still experiences emotional turmoil – the expression on her face when her husband returns home drunk tells us everything she is feeling. Gyuri Sarossy manages to make his character, Charlie Holroyd, sympathetic, more than just a drunk and violent miner. Polly Hemingway also gives a powerful performance as Holroyd’s mother, a woman hardened to suffering after losing several sons down the mine.
The small, in-the-round space of the Orange Tree perfectly suits this play. The final scene in particular, when Mrs Holroyd and her mother-in-law wash Holroyd’s body to prepare it for burial, is almost unbearably intimate. Moving and memorable.