Tag Archives: Dinah Mullen

Square Rounds – 3 Stars


Square Rounds

Finborough Theatre 

Reviewed – 6th September 2018


“this play about war and the devastating impact of chemical warfare and weapons of mass destruction has never been more timely”


This year British theatre has been marking the centenary of the ending of World War One by staging a number of new and revisited productions that pay homage to those involved in the terrible events between 1914 and 1918. One such play, based on true events, is the final production in the Finborough Theatre’s THEGREATWAR100 series. Square Rounds written by Tony Harrison and last performed almost thirty years ago at the National Theatre, is an epic exploration of the devastating effects of technology in the build up to the Great War. The play runs concurrently with the celebration of the venue’s 150th birthday.

The all women play opens with a three screen projection, on an otherwise black and white set, stating ‘I will give my life for peace’ and oddly, against an overall theme of death and destruction, it is this positive statement that runs through the content of the evening.

We are initially taken back to England 1915. With many men away fighting at the Front, six women in a munitions factory decide to play some of the inventors of the then modern technology warfare. We are introduced to Sweeper Mawes and the Munitionettes who in turn represent six very influential people who had both a positive and negative influence during that era.

Amongst those whose story we learn more of is American inventor Hudson Maxim (Amy Marchant) who is concerned for his country and the frightening technological advances employed by America’s new European enemies. But he is also jealous of his brother Sir Hiram Maxim (Letty Thomas) who invented the horrifically destructive Maxim machine gun. 

Fritz Haber (Philippa Quinn) was a German Jewish chemist whose invention is still the basis used for producing nitrogen fertilisers of which approximately half of the world’s food is produced using. Sadly he is also considered the ‘father of chemical warfare’ for his pioneering work producing poisonous gases during WW1. We see an interesting interaction between him and his chemist wife Clara Immerwahr (Gracy Goldman) unhappy with her husband’s venture into developing a deadly gas.

Designer Daisy Blower has created a basic, though effective set, that is complimented by thoughtful sound design (Dinah Mullen) and sympathetic lighting (Arnim Friess). Direction from Jimmy Walters keeps the action moving well though on some occasions the rhyming verse was a little too fast to take in the necessary information.

With a mix of tragedy and parody covering themes of race and ethics, this play about war and the devastating impact of chemical warfare and weapons of mass destruction has never been more timely. Sadly some one hundred years later we still hear and see horrific stories of the gassing of innocent people.

Whilst I found the first half slightly difficult to follow because of the detailed historic and chemical references, the second half became much clearer and more enjoyable to watch. An interesting show and for those with a keen interest in World War One history, this is likely to be unmissable.


Reviewed by Steve Sparrow

Photography by  S R Taylor



Finborough Theatre until 29th September


Recently reviewed at this venue
Finishing the Picture | ★★★★ | June 2018
But it Still Goes on | ★★★★ | July 2018
Homos, or Everyone in America | ★★★★ | August 2018


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The Daughter-In-Law – 4 Stars


The Daughter-In-Law

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 29th May 2018


“The cast’s command of the dialect, coupled with their grasp of the complexities of the characters, lift it above being a mere period drama, making the ordinary extraordinary”


Written in 1913, D. H. Lawrence never saw his play, “The Daughter-In-Law”, produced during his lifetime. It wasn’t until 1967 that his depiction of marital warfare between a pit worker and his wife had its premiere at the Royal Court. Since then it has been hailed as one of the great British dramas of the twentieth century. What is more surprising than the late recognition for the play, however, is the level of praise awarded to it. Lawrence himself described it as “neither a tragedy nor a comedy – just ordinary”.

Whether or not you agree with his self-deprecatory critique, the script does come with a built-in style that may not appeal to many theatre goers today. Jack Gamble makes no concessions to the modern audience in his production at the Arcola, which is to be applauded. He tells it like it is, with straight forward, intelligent and faithful direction.

Set in a Nottinghamshire coal-mining village its central theme is the conflict between a mother and her daughter-in-law. Mrs Gascoyne (Veronica Roberts) rules over her two sons, Joe (Matthew Biddulph) and Luther (Harry Hepple), the latter newly married to Minnie. Despite a fondness for platitudes such as “a son is a son till he takes him a wife”, it is clear that Roberts’ matriarchal figure has no intention of cutting the apron strings. Tensions are raised, then fall again, as the dialogue chips away at the concurrent issues of class, money and the impending national coal strike.

While it seems that the subject is in danger of being overmined, it is the entrance of Minnie that kick starts the play. Ellie Nunn immediately lets us know that Minnie is a ‘shrew’ unwilling to be tamed. Moreover, her hopes for marriage are not being met by Luther. But Nunn’s moving performance, reinforced by Hepple’s multi-layered portrayal of Luther, convinces us that, despite being at each other’s throats, this could be a loving marriage but for the overshadowing figure of the mother.

Initially the performances are a little too mannered, but with the benefit of the knowledge of what is to come it is now clear that this is a deliberate contrast to the explosive final scenes. Dinah Mullen’s sound design mirrors this with the crescendo of the violent confrontations of the coal-strike outside the house, while Geoff Hense’s shadowy lighting design captures the mood of lives losing focus in a haze of coal dust.

Where it sometimes lacks D. H. Lawrence’s sense of sexual passion, this is a show fuelled by finely chiselled performances. It might appear dated at times with dialogue that grates against contemporary sensibilities, but it is a piece firmly of its time and place. And therein lies its beauty: a snapshot of a bygone era – ‘kitchen sink drama’ before the phrase was coined. The cast’s command of the dialect, coupled with their grasp of the complexities of the characters, lift it above being a mere period drama, making the ordinary extraordinary.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Idil Sukan



Arcola Theatre

The Daughter-In-Law

Arcola Theatre until 21st June


Previously reviewed at this venue
Heretic Voices | ★★★★ | January 2018
Fine & Dandy | ★★★★★ | February 2018
The Parade | ★★★ | May 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com