HUSBANDS & Sons is not one story but three which have been interweaved to create one brilliant piece of drama.
The three stories are those of DH Lawrence, written between 1911 and 1913 and set on the border of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in the shadow of the Brinsley coal pit.
They tell the stories of three families whose lives revolve around the pit. The characters from each family sometimes meet each other in the rain soaked streets of the village but otherwise stay in the confines of their homes.
The play is as much about the husbands and their sons as it is about the women in their lives – the wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers and how they are treated.
Some of it is difficult to watch – Lizzie Holroyd in particular. Here is a woman with a young son who has to put up with her abusive and alcoholic husband who when he’s not down the pit is drinking away his earnings with a couple of loose women for company.
As if that wasn’t enough, she is drawn to a kind neighbour who helps about the house and eventually asks her to run away with him.
Across the road are the Lamberts. Mrs Lambert also has to put up with an abusive and uneducated husband while becoming ever more jealous of her son’s burgeoning romance. Her son is the apple of her eye and as she becomes more proud of him she begins to despise her husband more.
Then there are the Gascoignes. Newlywed Minnie is desperate to have a life of order, dinner at six, a neat and clean house and a husband who will let go of his mother’s suffocating apron strings. Yet this is so far from what she gets that she temporarily leaves home.
There are some very strong performances including Anne-Marie Duff who plays Lizzie Holroyd, Louise Brealey as Minnie and Joe Armstrong as Gascoigne.
As well as a superb cast, directed by the brilliant Marianne Elliott, the set is outstanding. It is played in the round with each home outlined on the stage floor with the family’s surname etched on it to delineate whose house is whose.
In between the homes are walkways to show the street they live on, the road to the pit and the coal seam itself. It is really quite brilliant.
It is by turns dark, funny, forbidding, terribly emotional and intense and is utterly absorbing. It is a triumph.
Husbands & Sons is on at the National Theatre until Wednesday, February 10. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.