Rutherford & Son – March 2013

Experience: 9/10

By Githa Sowerby

Directed by Jonathan Miller

Company: Northern Broadsides

Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston

Date: Thursday 21st March 2013

This was an excellent performance marred only by some seriously inconsiderate coughing from a large number of audience members, particularly during the first act – get some cough sweets! Having said that, the audience were nicely responsive to the play, gasping a bit when two characters had an unexpected kiss and when Rutherford senior came out with some of his more outrageous comments. We applauded warmly at the end as well, and Steve and I left feeling very uplifted and happy – a marvellous experience.

The set was relatively simple. A desk and chair on the left, dining table with chairs in the middle and two armchairs beside a skeleton fire front right. A wall ran behind all this with a door on the far left – we could see through to a small room behind – and a door on the right with a lobby area and the main door. There was a window near the left hand door and a large canopy hung over the centre of the stage. It had a wooden frame which held several strips of glass with a scroll design, and neither Steve nor I could figure out what it was. A skylight? An example of the glassworks’ craftsmanship? It wasn’t referenced as far as I could see and didn’t get in the way, but didn’t add anything either. Otherwise, the set worked really well, and the costumes were all nicely in period too.

We were lucky enough to attend one of the rehearsals for this play to see a run-through, and were totally gripped by the unfolding action. As a result there were no surprises for us today, of course, though it was good to see everyone in costume and on the proper set. For the run-through, we sat approximately by the window in the back wall, much closer than today, but it was interesting to see this again from the other side as some reactions became a lot clearer from this angle. The performances were all stronger and more flowing, and although we didn’t spot any significant changes to the characterisations, there were one or two details which stood out this time around.

We had a better view of the opening scene and the conversation (if you can call it that) between Aunt Ann and Mary, and I was aware that Mary was still hoping for things to turn out well. Janet’s sulkiness wasn’t so clear from a distance, but her unhappiness certainly was. John’s cough had largely disappeared since the rehearsal (wise move – too much of an invitation for the audience to join in) and I wondered how his optimism would sound to those who didn’t know the play. This time around I was more aware of his snappiness with Mary and others whenever his inadequacies were about to be exposed.

Richard, the other son who was a curate at the local church, was a much stronger presence this time around; the proper costume certainly helped, and Andrew Grose delivered a more detailed performance, while his reactions to his father’s behaviour added a lot to the humour during the confrontation with Mrs Henderson. Martin (Richard Standing) was just as stoical and loyal as before, and Barry Rutter was again a strong presence as the tyrannical father. The women were excellent too. Kate Anthony played a marvellously bitchy Aunt Ann, while Sara Poyzer gave Janet’s unhappiness a sharp edge. Catherine Kinsella also gave a very good performance, showing us Mary’s change of attitude as she came to realise what sort of man her husband was and holding her own on stage with Rutherford in the final scene.

We did notice one extra thing this time around, mainly because they now had the proper costumes, although the performance may have become clearer or even changed with time. When Janet left the house she went out without a coat, and both Steve and I realised that she was off to the moors to die in the cold. It was another telling point, and underlined the total collapse of Rutherford’s family which made the deal offered to him by Mary so attractive. It was not only good to see someone stand up to him, I also noticed that she was the only one who actually acknowledged that he was the one who could and did provide for his children, something his own children had been busily ignoring or rubbishing throughout the play.

It’s a great piece of work, and the adaptation to a Yorkshire instead of a Geordie setting worked well, reminding us that human nature is the same everywhere, unhappily so in some cases. With The Stepmother being so good as well, we’d like to see the one or two others she wrote sometime; it’s a shame she didn’t write more than that but at least we have these ones to enjoy.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

2 comments on “Rutherford & Son – March 2013

  1. Peter Serres says:

    The desk (Stage LEFT) had a speaking tube attached,( which Rutherford Senior used to summon Martin from the glassworks). This compounded minor problems which I had with the puzzling skylight. Since the Door Entrance appeared to come straight in from the outside, the room presented to the audience should have been on the ground floor. My conclusion was that we were seeing a single storey wing of a house built close enough to the works to be within the range of a speaking tube. Speaking tubes could operate at a range of up to 90m though Wikipedia does not give a date when this would have been possible. Overall, this aspect of the decor could be seen as underlining Rutherford’s obsession with being in close control of his domain.

    A powerful play and one of Northern Broadsides’ major achievements. Rutter for Best Actor?
    Or King Lear?

  2. Interesting point about the speaking tube. I had the impression from the dialogue that the big house would be set further away from the workers’ homes in the town, which suggested it wouldn’t be that close to the works, but the speaking tube trumps that idea.
    As for Rutter’s King Lear….. yes, please!

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