Rutherford & Son
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
14th – 18th May
Written by Githa Sowerby
Edited for Northern Broadsides by Blake Morrison
Directed by Sir Jonathan Miller
Reviewed by Christine Charlesworth
Written by Githa Sowerby in 1912 and based on her grandfather, John Sowerby, this powerful drama set in the north of England tells the story of an Edwardian family on the brink of collapse. John Rutherford, a tyrannical self-made patriarch, is blind to the hopes and feelings of his family with the success of his family-owned glass works taking precedence over everything, including the happiness of his children. The drama intensifies as the play unfolds and Rutherford's absolute authority is challenged when a family mutiny begins to take shape, which threatens to destroy his world and his beloved factory.
Rutherford & Son is the 21st anniversary production by Northern Broadsides, which was founded by Artistic Director, Barrie Rutter in 1992 and has become one of the most established touring companies in the country. This production sees Barrie taking the lead part of John Rutherford, a part that seems made for him and which he performs with intense energy. Other notable performances were from Sara Poyzer playing Janet, the spinster daughter who has felt imprisoned all her life and Nicholas Shaw playing John, the son who 'married beneath himself' but on his return to the family will not conform to his father's rules. Catherine Kinsella as Mary, young John's wife 'brought into a house without a scrap of love in it' is the one who finally manages to take on Rutherford, for the sake of her young son.
Sir Jonathan Miller came out of semi-retirement to direct this outstanding production. He was impressed by the extraordinary unpretentious naturalism of the play and by the extent to which it resembled the best of Chekov. He also felt that it had a remarkable relevance to the economic problems faced by small family businesses in this 21st century recession.
The set, designed by Isabella Bywater, was very simple with free-standing doorways and window, a black backdrop and very dim lighting, with real candles and oil lamps, helping to achieve the gloomy atmosphere of a northern Edwardian winter. Although it possibly could have benefitted, at times, from a little more light.
This was an excellent production, well worth seeing.
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