RUTHERFORD & SON
by Githa Sowerby edited by Blake Morrison.
St James Theatre 12 Palace Street SW1E 5JA To 29 June 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 264 2140.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 June.
Rugged Rutherford at its best showing varied emotional registers.
Despite the programme describing Northern Broadsides’ acting style as “far less ‘mannered’ than conventional theatrical productions”, Barrie Rutter’s central performance as mill-owner John Rutherford is almost oratorical. You could imagine him singing heartily in local Messiah come Christmas. Except Rutherford’d have nowt to do with such nonsense.
This isn’t a capital-versus-labour play, but about an overbearing father’s impact on his family. They sit in the dark waiting till he comes home of an evening. Then, stick in hand, he ignores them, speaking across the room to trusted workman Martin.
Recurrent Broadsides collaborator Blake Morrison moves things from Githa Sowerby’s home Gateshead to Yorkshire, where, in 1912, Rutherford’s is under financial threat, as it might be today.
Rutherford is less selfish than determined the family continue running the business he’s built. Yet his overbearing insistence splits people apart, till the man who outwits others, and who has crushed his children, ends having to negotiate with the equal will of a mother determined for her own son.
There’s notable distrust in his sister Ann’s reference to young John’s wife Mary being from London, the first syllable slightly extended as if requiring inspection. Rutter’s Rutherford can roar but it’s his other tones which round-out the portrait. There’s regret, effort and sense of betrayal; he’s a man who has come from the masses and knows what’ll happen if he doesn’t continue succeeding.
The production reunites Rutter with director Jonathan Miller, whose notable Nottingham Playhouse School for Scandal started the Broadsider-to-be’s professional career. Miller eschews music around scenes, leaving audiences to concentrate on the many objects involved as a table is laid or cleared.
But he uses a trick of the light devastatingly. The first two, evening, acts are played in a murk redolent of place, period and atmosphere. Only the last, morning, act reveals the room in frosty light, as the destructive consequences of Rutherford’s command become clear.
Characters rarely look at people they speak or listen to. Moments of contact are rare. It’s a tough world, where this production sometimes seems to parody itself, at others hits home with sharp truth and detail.
John Rutherford: Barrie Rutter.
John: Nicholas Shaw.
Richard: Andrew Grose.
Janet: Sara Poyzer.
Ann: Kate Anthony.
Mary: Catherine Kinsella.
Martin: Richard Standing.
Mrs Henderson: Gilly Tompkins.
Director: Jonathan Miller.
Designer: Isabella Bywater.
Lighting: Guy Hoare.