The National Theatre's Husbands And Sons: Divisive In More Ways Than One

Husbands and Sons, National Theatre ★★★☆☆

By Londonist Last edited 38 months ago
The National Theatre's Husbands And Sons: Divisive In More Ways Than One Husbands and Sons, National Theatre 3

In Husbands and Sons — Ben Power’s amalgamation of three of D. H Lawrence’s plays about miners’ families — major misery unfolds in three adjacent kitchens. In the first, tyrannical matriarch Mrs Gascoigne (Julia Ford) tussles with her daughter-in-law Minnie (portrayed with tacit but unfaltering fortitude by Louise Brealey) for her newly married son Walter’s (Lloyd Hutchinson) affections. This sinewy tangle of resentments and strong wills is Daughter in Law.

Metres away, in A Collier’s Friday Night, the Lambert family indulge in a typical squabble: teenage Earnest’s (Johnny Gibbon) newfound bookishness is posited as pointedly at odds with his mining background. Gibbon does an incisive job rendering both parents alienated and inadequate. Meanwhile, wearily whitening sheets beside the third sink, Lizzie Holroyd (Anne-Marie Duff) endures a loveless marriage and mothers her young son as best she can.

Duff comes to The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd having had a boorish brute of a husband in the recent blockbuster Suffragette. Here, she swaps her film character’s fiery independence for resignation, and we see her as the reluctant binding agent of her family unit. Duff amplifies the intensity of Lizzie’s sadness in a manner which is hypnotic: rocking her child to sleep with downcast eyes, she commands most of our attention even as the argument going on next door crescendos into Walter and Minnie’s separation.

But there's a problem. Having three plot-lines running simultaneously naturally divides attention. As well as affording some inventive moments when imaginary doors are slammed or eavesdropped behind, the lack of partitions in Bunny Christie’s aptly austere design should be more greatly embraced as a means of creating a greater sense of harmony across the whole stage. Instead, despite some fantastic individual performances from Marianne Elliott’s cast, Husbands and Sons predominantly feels like three separate dramas that detract from one another.

Husbands and Sons runs at the National Theatre (Dorfman Theatre) from 30 November-10 February. (Transfers to Royal Exchange 19 February-19 March) Tickets £15-£45. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 13 November 2015