Writer: Githa Sowerby
Director: Jonathan Miller
Reviewer: Helen Jones
Northern Broadsides pride themselves on doing classic plays in a northern voice and this current production of Rutherford and Son simply adds further to their successful twenty year history of great theatre.
When it was first performed in 1912, Rutherford and Son took London by storm, creating a social storm when it was revealed that the author was a woman. Githa Sowerby had based the lead character of John Rutherford on her grandfather who had opened and run glassworks on the banks of the Tyne. Blake Morrison has taken the original script and tweaked it to lose some of the archaic language and has also made the language closer to Yorkshire than Tyneside. However this does not distract from the language of the script but makes it more powerful for those listening to it today.
Director Jonathan Miller has kept this production tight and very smooth. Typical of it’s era, the first act is mostly a scene setting exercise, creating the world in which later events will take place. Miller has resisted any consideration of compacting this and leaves it to show us the thoughts and hopes of the people who surround John Rutherford.
Barrie Rutter as patriarch John Rutherford gives a powerhouse performance as the bullish domineering businessman. His authority is a emotional force which emanates across the stage, even when silent. But even the commanding John Rutherford has moments of pathos and Rutter is as impressive at showing this side of the man, as he is at the ebullience.
He is matched by the stunning performance of Sara Poyzer as his spinster daughter Janet. Repressed by her father, and middle aged by Edwardian standards, she has finally started a relationship with her father’s right hand man. But he is a working man, she has been brought up to be a lady and her father disowns her upon discovering the association. Poyzer shows the transformation from dutiful but secretive daughter to passionate woman with a convincing passion, but her beau is not the man she believed and she walks away bowed but refusing to be broken.
The majority of the cast are excellent, with Catherine Kinsella making the rôle of Mary, young John’s wife, a credible person, when would be easy to become lost among more powerful characters. The only character which remained unconvincing was Wendi Peter’s Mrs Henderson, and her drunken defence of her thieving son was implausible.
Northern Broadsides have taken one of the most influential plays of the 20th Century and brought it out to a wider audience. Combining the opportunities to see one of the north’s great production companies and a great play makes Rutherford and Sons one of this year’s must see plays.