Marianne Elliott wins again with this take on a mixture of all three of D.H Lawrence dramatic works (The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, The Daughter-in-law & A Collier’s Friday Night). They have been joined and mixed into a superb piece of theatre.
We are confronted with an in-the-round space where we are looking in on three households. The Lamberts, Gascoignes and Holyrods and we are pulled from one story to the next, from one domestic nightmarish existence to another. The north where it is bitingly cold, people struggle to survive and relationships are vast and intense. Men are brutal and yet they are worked to death in the mines. The women are neglected and although the title of this version leans toward a focus on the male figures (Husbands and sons), the women are key to all of this. Whether it is because they tie the family together and keep it alive or whether it is because they will be destroyed by their husbands and/or sons.
It is a powerful piece of theatre that still resonates today despite being set around the 1910’s . The undercurrent of the strike action against the owners of the coal mines is still very potent today when thinking about both current working conditions and strike action as well as the conditions of certain regions of the UK that are still struggling financially and economically.
The cast interweave with and around each other seemlessly, both physically and with the dialogue. There is never a dropped ball at any point, and the three stories are interwoven beautifully. It does take a while to get used to the thick northern dialects but after a few minutes it is as clear as can be. The cast mime putting on their coats and hats, opening doors and eating food. At times it is incredibly naturalistic and at others strangely mechanical, stylised and robotic, perhaps intending some other worldliness…
At the denouement we are met with deep cavernous booming sounds of the mine shafts and bright lights glaring up from the stage floor suggesting the deep mines underneath us reminding of us their power and how easily men lost their lives down the pits. There is a contrast of the men’s relationships with their work and the intensity of their relationships with their family and more importantly their wives. Sadly it is coming to the end of it’s run but still has a few shows left, I would recommend it thoroughly. Luckily I was on the front row of the pit and part of sitting there means you have to switch sides in the interval so that you get two entirely different views of this little village of people we look in on throughout thus super piece.
You can see Husbands and Sons at the Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, Directed by Marianne Elliott.