Husbands and Sons at the National Theatre
It hardly rare to see Anne Marie Duff in a physically and emotionally challenging role, whether on screen, in cinemas or on the stage. True to form, she delivers another ground-breaking performance in this gritty, Northern, kitchen sink drama.
Husbands and Sons simultaneously performs three familial dramas by D.H. Lawrence, set in the same Northern mining community. Lizzie Holroyd (Anne Marie Duff) is stuck in an oppressive marriage with Charles (Martin Marquez), whilst embroiled in a tender, yet unconsummated, affair with electrician Blackmore (Philip McGinley). Their neighbours, the Lamberts, have their domestic bliss destroyed by a mother’s (Julia Ford) preferential treatment of her son, at the expense of her husband and long-suffering daughter. Finally, the Gascoignes show the delicate power balance between two generations under one roof, as a mother’s love stifles and controls her new daughter-in-law. Their narratives unfold, interspersed with each other. However, this bold attempt at forming a community from separate stories falls short at drawing the three into a cohesive, uniform plot.
Staged in the round, the audience is plunged into this town’s world and their woes, as women are pitted against men and the dichotomy of human nature is fully explored. Lizzie Holroyd is a strong presence, yet oppressed at home; Lydia Lambert is a controlling mother, yet dependent on her son; and their husbands are brutish, yet so fearful of the mines.
Anne Marie Duff is superb, giving an incredible, despairing performance that conveys the conflicting traits of a woman both fiercely passionate and depressed. Julia Ford gives a grounding portrayal that depicts the contradictory and extreme emotional bond between mother and son. LLoyd Hutchinson and Martin Marquez, although tyrannical, provide much-welcome comic relief, playing drunkenness to an extreme without making it farcical. They share a touching, yet humorous, scene mirroring the other’s inebriated state.
Marienne Elliott’s production is mesmerising and demonstrates the battlefield of emotions lying within familial bonds. The set is impressive and heavily detailed, separated into the three houses where the different stories take place; the actors navigate these homes with a combination of prop-use and mime.
At a weighty three hours, the onslaught of moody reflection at times drags, but this is a powerful piece of Northern working-class life in 1911.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Husbands and Sons is on at the National Theatre from 19th October until 10th February 2016, for further information or to book visit here