Regular readers of this blog may remember that the last time I encountered Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole I was less than enamored with it. I found Greenwood’s tale of the poverty stricken Hanky Park slums near Salford to be a bit wearing and in some cases downright irritating. It’s been a while since my original delve into Greenwood’s world though – possibly time enough for me to have mellowed?
It is Love on the Dole’s resonant themes that have made the story something of a modern classic. Greenwood’s story was a response to the crippling unemployment affecting the area and follows the Hardcastle family as they are pulled apart – sound familiar at all? Swap out Hanky Park for elsewhere in Manchester and the industrial way of life for call centres and you’re not a million miles away from where we stand today.
This version by the Altrincham Garrick is rather special. Not only is it part of their Centenary season, but is written by Ronald Gow, a founder member of the Garrick. Gow’s adaptation was also notably turned into a film with both screen and stage versions taking the country by storm. With relatively few ‘classic’ Northern plays to choose from, Love on the Dole has endured and stands as a fitting tribute to Gow’s impact on the theatre landscape.
Despite Gow’s adaptation being written in 1934, it’s lost surprisingly little of its punch eighty years on. Of note are Laura Chandler’s Sally and Ashley Ball’s Harry. Young and tempestuous, their anger is barely contained at Hanky Park’s continued poverty. Both long for material possessions to subvert their working class position, much to the ire of proud father Henry (Graham Simmonds) wounding his pride – already an outdated notion in 1934 and positively archaic now. Simmonds performance is masterful, with a deep-seated vein of shame at accepting help buried among his irascible anger.
The company provide much of the community feel – much of them passing each other in the street on Margaret Norris’s superbly designed stage is straight out of classic Coronation Street. Modern audiences may well assume that the unholy triad of Mrs. Jike, Dorbell and Bull (Val Watkinson, Pat Williamson and Mags Johnson) are based on Ena Sharples, Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhurst with their gossiping and general hi-jinx. Older audiences however will no doubt nod with how utterly authentic the ladies performances are.
It’s a smaller scale type of poverty than in Greenwood’s book. Only one character really comes out the other side as a winner, for the rest there is no winning in Hanky Park – just surviving. This stage version sanitises this a little bit with more slapstick humour breaking up the grim outlook. In part it works, but Love on the Dole has an important tale to tell, no matter how grim the consequences. Maureen Casket’s direction is at it’s best when aping kitchen sink drama – confrontational scenes towards the end of the second Act are pitched nicely with some sharp intakes of breath from the audience.
Time will tell for Love on the Dole whether or not we look back at it as a charmingly quaint reminder of a bygone age. For now though, it acts as a timely and still relevant discourse of life on the bread line. Looking past my feelings towards Greenwood’s story, you have a solid, rudely stylish and confident production awaiting you at the Altrincham Garrick this week – a production that ironically enough is perhaps the most relevant of their Centenary season.
The Fiction Stroker gives Love on the Dole four strokes out of five:
Love on the Dole continues until Saturday 1 February with tickets available from the Box Office.