Sunday, February 14, 2016

HUSBANDS & SONS at the Dorfman, National Theatre - In The Pits....

I had been toying with seeing this as it is directed by the always-interesting Marianne Elliott but never got round to it until O booked tickets for it as the first of his birthday week theatre trips.  It certainly had it's moments but it also showed the worrying way that "director theatre" is taking.

So it turns out that in a workshop of D.H. Lawrence's three most important plays: THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW, THE WIDOWING OF MRS HOLROYD and THE COLLIER'S NIGHT IN - none of which he ever saw performed - Elliott and Ben Power (who has that dreaded job, a dramaturg) hit upon the *whizzer* idea that, as they were all of comparable length, why not stage them all at the same time and have all three plays performed on the same stage - Lawrence's Eastwood community alive at the same time.

The trouble is that Lawrence, while obviously skilled as a writer, had a limited dramatic palate; the three plays seem to have the same rhythm, the dramatic peaks all seem to happen at the same time - and the dramatic lows all happen at the same time too.

I am sure if Lawrence - who had yet to hit his full literary height when he wrote these plays - had wanted his plays to be performed as such he would have written an ensemble piece.  They are three miniatures that have been pasted onto a massive painting.  This "cut and shunt" approach to plays is growing more prevalent as directors make productions more about them then about the text they are presenting.

The idea of setting a play within it's period and within the writer's character delineations are becoming more grist to the star director's mill.  If I go to see UNCLE VANYA then I want the lead character to be called Vanya... and not John as is currently the case at the bloody Almeida.  And what with the National announcing in the past week that Tamsin Greig is going to be playing MalvoliA in a re-imagined TWELFTH NIGHT...

Bunny Christie has transformed the Dorfman into a Nottinghamshire version of OUR TOWN or DOGVILLE with the outlines of the three houses cheek-by-jowl and one couldn't fault the lighting design by Lucy Carter and video design of Tal Rosner.

The cast were mostly ok but no one really seized their role and gave it a damn fine shake.  Anne-Marie Duff is unlikely to ever give a bad performance and she was suitably downtrodden as Mrs Holroyd and I liked Katherine Pearce as Gertie, a fine big lump of a girl, always up for a laugh.  Otherwise, the performances were anonymous.

I wish I had liked it more but the concept kept getting in the way.  What next I wonder?  Hey, Noel Coward wrote plays about the same types of people - why not do PRIVATE LIVES, HAY FEVER and DESIGN FOR LIVING all at the same time and call it RICH PEOPLE?

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