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Husbands and Sons – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Writer: D H Lawrence
Adaptor: Ben Power
Director: Marianne Elliott
Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent

 

Ben Power and Marianne Elliott have constructed this new piece, Husbands and Sons, by combining three other plays by D H Lawrence. While originally written as three separate plays they do have common themes. All are set in the same mining village in 1911, and while they all examine the reality and brutality of the world of coal mining they all centre on the delicately intricate interior lives of the families. Power and Elliott have brought forward the female protagonist from the three families to lead their story.

There are the Holroyds who’s story is taken from the play The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, the Lamberts who have come from the play A Collier’s Friday night and finally the Gascoignes who originate in the play The Daughter-in-law. The acting throughout is incredibly strong, each household is visible throughout so there is some beautifully detailed and natural action while other scenes are taking place which is mesmerising to watch. Having all three households on stage at once makes it cramped but perfectly demonstrates the reality of the pit villages. The pace is slightly juddery in the first half as the action jumps from household to household. As the acting is continuous as opposed to freeze frame the dialogue must hit the ground running and pick up where it left off after a period of silence while another scene is taking place. This means some outbursts seem to come from nowhere.

Inevitably telling three stories in the space of one means some detail will be lost. It’s fair to say that the three plays don’t get equal weighting in this adaptation and some characters, in particular, Lloyd Hutchinson’s Walter Lambert, the head of the Lambert household, come off slightly two dimensional as they haven’t been allowed the space to express the whole character arc. This lies with the adaptation, not the performance. In act two when Ernest Lambert played by Johnny Gibbon confronts his overbearing mother, played by Julia Ford her response is confusing and slightly extreme, again as we have only glimpsed into this complex and delicate relationship which leaves the audience more confused than consoled.

Designer Bunny Christie appears to have drawn inspiration from the Lars Von Trier film Dogville, as there are real props and furniture, real fire and running water. Yet mimed doors, coats, food and drink. The houses are marked outlines on the floor and the names of the families written on the ground. The decision to have some elements mimed and some realare intriguing to watch. It seems Christie has removed any of the comforts of this home life and kept only the practical. A couple of glaringly contemporary details in the costume (most unfathomably a hoodie ! ),however, are irritating and undermine the authenticity of the rest of the design.

The three female leads played by Anne-Marie Duff, Julia Ford and Louise Brealy carry the weight of the play between them and do so beautifully. They each fully inhabit their characters and balance power with vulnerability. Some laughs come courtesy of Katherine Pearce who plays Gertie Coomer with wit and charm. And Philip McGinley who acts opposite Anne-Marie Duff masterfully portrays the agony of love.

The show runs at three hours long with a one hour and forty minute first act. However, as there is so much to communicate with three families to introduce the time is used well. A bold adaptation that offers a unique look at family life in 1911 and the verity of a mining community.

 

Runs until 19March 2016 | Image: Contributed

Writer: D H Lawrence Adaptor: Ben Power Director: Marianne Elliott Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent   Ben Power and Marianne Elliott have constructed this new piece, Husbands and Sons, by combining three other plays by D H Lawrence. While originally written as three separate plays they do have common themes. All are set in the same mining village in 1911, and while they all examine the reality and brutality of the world of coal mining they all centre on the delicately intricate interior lives of the families. Power and Elliott have brought forward the female protagonist from the three families to lead…

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