Some days just come together, don’t they? I wasn’t thinking of doing anything terribly interesting today, but my housemate suggested trying for last minute tickets for The Winter’s Tale. I was going to say no thanks, but I struggle to say no to Shakespeare at the best of times, and I thought it was a good idea to get off my great lumbering arse. As she was queuing, though, she changed her mind and asked if I’d like to see Husbands & Sons instead. I’d not heard of the show, and knew nothing about it. So of course I said yes. And right glad I am that I did, too!
Husbands & Sons creates a deeply engrossing story by interweaving three of D.H.Lawrence’s plays. The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, A Collier’s Friday Night, and The Daughter-in-Law sit splendidly side-by-side, woven together delicately by Ben Power. I’m not sure I’d have bothered to make the effort if my housemate hadn’t suggested it. Three plays simultaneously just sounds like asking for trouble! But the skillful manner in which these three have been brought together is quite remarkable.
The action shifts, often distractingly, between the three spaces that have been created, three collier’s houses in a northern English village, as it were. And while the characters hear each other, they interact little until the latter part of the play. Their stories, while separate, are far from independent, though. Power has carefully brought the themes of the plays together, so that the stories complement and enhance one another.
Bunny Christie’s design is remarkable, in that it appears, at first glance to be predictable. It reflects the Kitchen Sink style D.H.Lawrence’s scripts were ultimately categorised with, until the play begins. Projections cast an industrial shadow over domestic imagery, and the four-sided performance space of the Dorfman Theatre oozes atmospheres domestic and industrial, damp and cold, tense and cosy throughout the lengthy passage of the play’s action.
Lengthy though it may be, this production is far from a labour. We were lucky enough to find ourselves upstairs, at the rear of the auditorium high above the stage. I was able to sit back or forward, and even to stand when the mood took me. This position truly added to the experience, which was engaging enough as it was, thanks also to a brilliant cast that had benefited from impeccable direction by Marianne Elliott.
There are so many things to love about this play, but the highest praise I can offer is that it was one of those theatrical experiences where, walking outside afterwards feels like stepping into a duller, less real reality. This is the reason theatre remains so vital, so visceral, experiences like this. Even the glorious dusk light over the Thames, shining brilliantly on St. Paul’s, seemed dun in comparison to the vibrant humanity of the stories I’d just been through.
Perfect theatre. Simply perfect.