What a wonderful play to see as my first experience of a production at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. To add to the occasion it was also Paul Miller's first production as new artistic director of the theatre and finally the night I chose to see the play, deliberately was on the birthday of D. H. Lawrence himself. The high expectations were not let down.
In this intimate theatre one cannot escape the drama, nor does one want to. The tale of Lizzie Holroyd set in a Midlands mining community a century ago is brutal and gritty and the audience are required to bear it alongside Lizzie. We come to despise her beastly drunkard husband and the taut suspense of his every action causes us to jump at every thump of the door he enters and exits.
The bleak and crippling life that Lizzie leads may seem distant from a modern day scenario, yet one thing that remains is the lack of control human beings have over their destiny. The final blow of Holroyd's death stuns all the characters into a state of stasis.
As the wife and mother wash the soot and dirt off from Holroyd's body, I was immediately reminded of a scene from Lawrence's short story 'Odour of Chrysanthemums' (and in fact the play is Lawrence's adaptation of this particular short story) where Lizzie washes her husband's dead body. As she looks at the dead body she questions her own identity and whole existence: "Who am I? What have I been doing? I have been fighting a husband who did not exist. He existed all the time. What was that I have been living with? There lies the reality, this man."
An uprooting performance with stellar acting, particularly from Ellie Piercy as Mrs Holroyd, Gyuri Sarossy as Holroyd, Polly Hemingway as the grieved mother and Jordan Mifsud as Blackmore.
The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd is on at the Orange Tree Theatre until 4th October 2014.
Review by Heather Wells, author of the poetry collection Maiden Voyage and Deputy Editor of The London Magazine.