The National have done a very clever thing with Husbands and Sons. Combining three of D. H. Lawrence’s plays about mining families in the East Midlands, it really allows the audience to get more out of each play, automatically drawing parallels between the three families, giving you greater insight into each.
The set is excellent and very claustrophobic, with everything very regimented and labelled, never becoming a period piece, allowing one to view the action with greater scrutiny. This is not just entertainment. The pit and the coal dust constantly intrudes, and all of the families are squashed in on top of each other, and so although they have their own self-contained plot lines, there are moments when the lines between the groups become blurred. It really feels like life in a small village.
The acting is top notch – it’s worth going to see for Anne-Marie Duff’s performance alone – but personally I thought Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong were captivating. I saw them both in Constellations when it toured earlier in the year, and I assume their roles here as husband and wife are as a result of their chemistry together in that.
This is a very bleak show, but one well worth seeing. At £20, my ticket wasn’t exactly mega cheap, but as this was bought through the National’s Friday Rush scheme this is still a hefty discount on standard prices. My seat was front row in the pit as well, so well worth paying that bit extra for: I really felt like I was part of the action. Due to the nature of the set, those sitting in the pit have to leave all coats and bags in the cloakroom before the show, and during the interval everyone swaps seats. I wasn’t exactly sure why there was a seat change, but it did allow for a different angle and a different perspective, bringing you closer to a different family. It also meant that I got to witness Duff’s incredible second half performance from literally within touching distance.
This is a very clever production, with some cracking performances: intense, clever, and sobering.
And in case you need even more reasons to see the show (quick, it ends on 10th Feb), then here’s the trailer.
All photos by Manuel Harlan, via National Theatre website.