The Pick - Made in Northampton

Every marriage is different

February 3, 2011

Made in Northampton

Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton, 4 February to 23 April

“She looks wonderfully well,” reflects Mr Pooter about his wife Carrie, “except that the sun has caught her nose. We sat out in the garden quite late. She trimmed a little hat she bought in Sutton, while I read to her the Exchange and Mart.”

This picture of domestic bliss is taken from Hugh Osborne’s new stage version of The Diary of a Nobody (1892), George and Weedon Grossmith’s classic account of anxious suburban gentility. It can be seen at the Royal & Derngate Theatre between 4 and 19 March as part of the Made in Northampton season. The first three plays all dissect changing styles of English marriage.

The Royal & Derngate was The Stage’s regional theatre of the year in 2010, while artistic director Laurie Sansom won the Theatrical Management Association best director award for his productions of Eugene O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon and Tennessee Williams’ Spring Storm (both of which transferred to the National Theatre).

The season opens with Daphne du Maurier’s The Years Between (4-26 February), which explores the way that the Second World War broke down traditional sex roles. Diana Wentworth, wife of a colonel and MP, claims she has “never wanted to be anything more than a background for Michael”. But when he seems to have been killed in action, she realises her “life doesn’t belong to him any more”, stands for election to his parliamentary seat and plans to remarry. In the event, it turns out he has survived, and he is horrified to discover she has become “one of those managing, restless women, always writing letters, going to meetings, arguing about ridiculous questions, having interminable conversations on the telephone”…

“Du Maurier was working through her own anxieties,” says Sansom, “her sense that her new-found independence would be under threat when her husband returned from the war. She suggested they should have separate bedrooms when he came home. All three plays are about married couples with a son and all have a great respect for marriage, despite its many difficulties, and focus on decent people trying to lead decent lives.”

The final play, Terence Rattigan’s In Praise of Love(1-23 April), depicts another marriage torn apart by old traumas and hidden secrets. Sebastian Cruttwell, hack journalist, political posturer and self-confessed “uncaring shit”, seems to be another domestic tyrant with nothing but contempt for his wife Lydia: “Oh good, darling, you’re back. The heating has gone wrong.” She is tempted to go off with his long-term rival, successful American novelist Mark Walters. Yet nothing is quite what it seems as the characters struggle with what Sebastian calls “the English vice” of “refusal to admit to our emotions”.

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