Husbands and Sons (National Theatre)

Following last year’s curiosity when ‘A Month in the Country’ was rewritten as ‘Three Days in the Country’, the National Theatre has now turned to DH Lawrence, and in Ben Power’s adaptation, has joined together three of his plays into one interconnected whole, lasting three hours.

The original plays are ‘A Collier’s Friday Night’, ‘The Daughter-In-Law’, and ‘The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd’.  In this combination of the trilogy of plays, the Lamberts, the Gascoignes, and the Holroyds live side by side, with the men working in the same pit and the women passing pleasantries with each other.

In a quirky bit of design, these three households are set out across the Dorfman stage, in the round, and if you are in the front seating, you will find yourself moving seats after the interval so as to observe the families from a different viewpoint.  Gimmicky, but interesting.  I started behind the Gascoigne house, which was a bonus as Louise Brearley as Minnie could be heard more effectively close-up than at a distance (although one sequence where she listens to a ballad on a scratchy gramophone is touching), and then sat behind the Holroyd home in the second act, where I greatly enjoyed Anne-Marie Duff’s downtrodden colliery wife/widow who takes strength from death.

As separate entities, these are minor works, and taken as a whole they do not quite gel together – still, there are nice moments from the mother at the Gascoigne house (Susan Brown), a neighbour with a secret shared with a married son (Josie Walker and Joe Armstrong), and a miner at the Lambert house pushed out by the wife who despises him but adores their cultured and educated son (Lloyd Hutchinson, Julia Ford and Johnny Gibbon) – despite this story being rather reminiscent of the 1969 Monty Python sketch where the working class father despites his posh miner son.  At the Holroyds, Martin Marquez overdoes the drunkenness of the husband slightly but still manages to evoke sympathy.

Lawrence’s world of pit smoke, bread making, plate clearing, and strong women trapped by circumstance is dated now, but this treatment gives it some freshness.  I would question some of the directorial and stylistic choices – why real plates but pretend food, real chairs but pretend doors, real dresses but pretends caps and shawls, and why the need for elaborate mime in order to ‘connect’ the houses?