Writer: Githa Sowerby
Director: Sir Jonathan Miller
Reviewer: Sue Collier
“Your father is a control freak. The family business is a millstone round your neck. Home feels like a prison. And yet you have dreams …”
This powerful drama presents the tensions between capitalism and labour and examines in particular, the place and importance of women in Edwardian society by drawing attention to the way they are tyrannised and ignored within a family. Though written a century ago Sowerby’s script proves very contemporary, with references to parenthood, class, gender and love. Director Jonathan Miller’s considers Sowerby’s play is a masterpiece of the likes of Chekhov.
This is Northern England in the 1890s. John Rutherford is a man who prioritises the success of his family glassworks business above the needs of his own family which is on the brink of collapse. He dictates “Work and more work and six foot of earth at the end – that’s life”. Rutherford rules his household by fear and demands “I have a right to expect my children to obey me”. However, change is afoot – a family mutiny is lurking around the corner.
Rutherford feels no shame about his treatment of family members, particularly the women. He considers Janet should be grateful that she has literally nothing to do. Her defiant setting of the table is the highlight of her day. There is a scene of shattering confrontation between Rutherford and Janet who is very passionately played by Sara Poyzer. Janet has no quality of life which Rutherford considers of no importance. Poyzer physically shines with joy after Janet eventually tells her father exactly what she thinks of him. She is in love and has an escape route but Rutherford’s only concern is that she is in love with a working class man.
This is a very engaging family drama and the tension grips the audience. Rutter’s performance arouses a range of strong emotions with one audience member whispering “I’d like to kill him” (Rutherford). Rutter’s technique of using silence to intimidate is spellbinding, particularly when Rutherford refuses to acknowledge Mary (who is sat next to him) merely because she is working class, when intimidating Martin, manipulating John Jnr. and making Janet fearful.
Northern Broadsides, was formed in 1992 by Barrie Rutter and is based in Dean Clough Mill in Halifax. The company has gone from strength to strength by presenting classic plays in a simple style which is very accessible to modern day audiences.
The setting is extremely atmospheric with great attention to period detail. Effective lighting gives an impression of only a candle, an oil lamp and the fire by which to see with the women sitting around the fire straining their eyes over their needlework. Scene changes are completed in candlelight.
The Leeds audience responded appreciatively to the Yorkshire humour and were clearly at ease with the strong dialect within the script. This is quite a long play of 2hours 30 minutes (including interval) and although act one is ninety minutes long, the story is so compelling that this is not noticeable. Highly recommended.