Autobiography 3. The Royal Court 2

Royal Court 2. D. H. Lawrence.

The 1st productions for which I designed the costumes was “A Collier’s Friday Night”, and such was the critical success of this that the following year a trilogy of all 3 of D.H.Lawrence’s mining community plays was produced to universal acclaim.

Although written between 1911 and 1913 they had never had professional productions, so these were, in fact, World Premiers. The director was Peter Gill, and the great John Gunter, then aged 28, designed the sets. We embarked on our researches with a day-trip to Eastwood, the bleak little mining town some 8 miles from Nottingham. It was something of a shock to see just how small the miners’ cottages were, with outside privies and no hot water. An exact, true to size construction of the entire cottage of the play fitted easily within the constricted sight-lines of the tiny Royal Court stage.

Like much of Lawrence’s stage works, and indeed his best known novel, “Sons and Lovers”, the theme was jealousy, a bitter battle between a man’s new wife and his glowering mother. It was clearly a theme that dominated Lawrence’s own life experience, where the women were, or considered themselves to be, “a cut above” their lumpen, furiously inarticulate coal-streaked men-folk. If I remember rightly the climactic scene took place while the women were waiting for news of their men after an accident at the coal-mine. “I dinna want the Orts and Slarts of a man” Minnie cries. I never did find out what an ort or a slart was.

We all worked hard to recreate this world without any sense of condescension, and the result in the end was beautiful in it’s honesty. The costumes were naturally very simple, but such was the care lavished on every pinafore and pit-boot that they had a great richness about them. Even if half the miners’ high-backed work trousers fell to pieces on the 1st dress rehearsal as I had tried to bleach the colour out of army surplus trousers from Lawrence Corner in an over-strong solution of domestic bleach with disastrous results. The colour shifted not at all, military dyers might like to hear.

I suppose that these productions did define the Royal Court ‘style’. It was very earnest and deeply purist, which is maybe surprising the given the Court’s somewhat racy reputation as a centre of the dramatic avant garde.