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Theatre Review: Pies and Peas with DH Lawrence

19 June 17 words: James Walker

As part of The Little Bit Scruffy Festival, our former Literature Editor, James Walker, caught the celebration of DH Lawrence's work over in Matlock...

Pie and Peas with DH Lawrence is an amateur dramatics performance that sketches out key elements in the life of Eastwood’s most famous mard arse. It focuses primarily on his time in the Midlands, which Lawrence famously described as “the country of my heart.” The play was produced and performed by the Wirsworth Community Theatre and so emphasis is given to Lawrence’s time in the surrounding area. He moved to Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth on 2 May 1918 with his German wife Frieda, got ill, caught up with family, and then boggered off after a year to embark on his savage pilgrimage that would see him travel the globe.

Lawrence lived in Middleton during the brutal winter of 1918 and we’re given an insight into this via three letters to Katherine Mansfield. We learn that it was so cold that eggs from the hen house had frozen. This was followed by a reading of his poem War Baby and then a brief line from a local woman who was furious that Lawrence had dodged the war while others had given their life. A Wintry Peacock, which was inspired by his time in the Derbyshire market town, is partly performed, whereby a suspicious wife asks a man who can speak French to translate the contents of a letter to her husband. This places the man in an awkward situation as he has to decide whether to tell the truth of her husband’s infidelity or spare her feelings. Given the audience were privy to the contents of the letter, this worked very well on stage.

Lawrence was so ill during a visit to see his sister Ada in Ripley in February 1919 that a doctor thought he may die. While here he wrote a short story called Adolf about a childhood pet rabbit. The rabbit causes chaos in the family home, leaving droppings on saucers while helping itself to the sugar pot. In performing this, the producers celebrated Lawrence’s love of nature and wildlife which led nicely onto a reading of Snake.

The play also briefly touches on the Lady C trial, censorship of his paintings, his parents, and his relationship with his German wife Frieda. This means that other elements, such as his savage pilgrimage, are omitted. But this works very well, providing a brief outline of his life and works that are performed through song, poetry, short stories, plays, comedy, letters, court case recitals, and piano ballads.

There are a few standout performances that deserve mentioning. Getting Frieda Lawrence (Marie Paurin) to read out Lawrence’s damning poem The English Are So Nice was a masterstroke. It’s delivered with the right balance of sarcasm and perfectly weighted in delivery to enable the humour to come through: “The English are so nice/so awfully nice/they are the nicest people in the world./And wha’s more, they’re very nice about being nice/ about your being nice as well!”

A Colllier’s Wife is an incredibly difficult poem to read because of the dialect but Sue Watts was brilliant. She’s like a cross between Ms. Ball-breaker and Nora Batty and delivers this, and other lines, with absolute ferocity. And finally, the gem of the show goes to Andy Miller – a member of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio – for his adapted version of a Monty Python Sketch in which Lawrence and his father switch roles so that the father moans how hard it is writing all day and getting “wrist ache” while Lawrence talks enthusiastically about life down the pit. Brilliant.

The play was performed as part of the Little Bit Scruffy Festival at the Grand Pavilion Theatre in Matlock. Lynn Allison, a Trustee, Director and Co Chairman of the charity that owns the building said the purpose of hosting the festival here was to “bring new people into the building to hear our rescue and renovation story and to bring new drama to the area”.

The Grand Pavilion was built in 1910 but has sustained damage from water over the years. “Because of the condition of the building, we say it is ‘Open – ambitious – and Still a Little Bit Scruffy’ hence the name of the festival.”

At £12 a ticket this was good value for money and included pie and peas, although technically the veggie option was a pasty.

The Little Bit Scruffy Festival runs from 28 May – 2 July and includes other plays and workshops.

The Grand Pavillion website

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