THEATRE / On theatre

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John Dove is a director with a reputation for nurturing and encouraging young playwrights - his last production at the Hampstead Theatre was Rona Munro's bitterly revealing tale of Belfast women, Bold Girls. He also recently directed John Murrell's Democracy at the Bush. Now Dove's championing of unsung theatrical voices extends to the previous century, and the well-kept secret of DH Lawrence's early plays.

A Collier's Friday Night (with Kate Ashfield as Maggie Pearson, right), previewing from tonight, was written in 1909 when Lawrence was a callow 24, and an avid theatre-goer. The would-be playwright followed the rule of writing about what you know, setting the play in the kitchen of a Nottinghamshire mining family where a son and a mother are just beginning to distance themselves from each other. Sound familiar?

'Nobody ever encouraged him in his playwriting, so he stopped,' explains Dove with a tinge of regret. 'He moved to novels, and once he'd found his form, he stayed there.'

A Collier's Friday Night was the first of a trilogy with The Daughter-in-Law and The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, but this latter was the only one he saw staged, in 1926. 'He wrote them for publication really,' says Dove, who directed The Daughter-in-Law at the Hampstead in 1985, and Mrs Holroyd at Leicester Haymarket in 1990. But did the future novelist really have a sense of the dramatic? 'Oh yes, they're tremendously dramatic,' he confirms. 'They're very brave, very vivid, and actors love them. If we'd read this now as a first play by a young man, we'd have jumped on it.'

A Collier's Friday Night, Hampstead Theatre (071-722 9301)

(Photograph omitted)

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