Author: Githa Sowerby
Director: Jonathan Miller
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
It is a long way from Guildford, even on a wet and very windy night, to the industrial N.E. of England at the turn of the 20th Century. But Isabella Bywater’s set, visible in its sombre gloom to the audience entering the auditorium for this Northern Broadsides production, certainly covers a good deal of the distance. And a very serviceable set it is too, allowing this account of the traditional northern entrepreneur who lets obsession with the longevity of the firm ‘Rutherfords’ dominate his life and more particularly the lives of his three children to devastating effect, to be played out with one (albeit over long) scene change, in the dining room and parlour of the family home.
Completing the journey successfully proves a bit more problematic. Quite a lot is made in the programme of Blake Morison’s editing of Githa Sowerby’s script and presumably the language of the original is deemed to be too difficult for modern ears. But it falls a bit between two stools leaving more modern idioms and passages of dialect rubbing shoulders in a rather uncomfortable way. It seems almost as though the more peripheral characters can use dialect to help set the scene but not the main players who must use the Queen’s English.
Those main players are surely strong enough to convey their message even if in dialect. Barrie Rutter certainly is, playing the commanding figure of John Rutherford who dominates the lives of all around him. He could have done a bit less shouting and, tellingly, many of his more effective moments are conveyed by those very knowing expressions and gestures, but this is an assured and powerful performance. A tribute to it is that Rutter is off stage for large sections of the play but his presence pervades the whole production. To be fair to Githa Sowerby’s writing and Jonathan Miller’s adept direction some of the credit for this must go to them since Rutherford is already a dominating presence before he ever appears on stage half way through the first act. As to the supporting cast there are no weak links but no very strong ones either. Sara Poyzer plays the over protected but domestically put upon daughter, Janet, with an enjoyable degree of sarcastic wit in the first half. Indeed there is far more humour, particularly in the early part of this production, than you might expect and it is very much appreciated by an audience perhaps feeling rather cowed. Poyzer overdoes the histrionic in the second part but this may be the down side of Sowerby’s writing in that she and the other siblings, brothers Dick played by Andrew Grose and John played by Nicholas Shaw, are not believable enough as characters for much development by the actors. Or is it just that they have been so dominated that the life has been sucked out of them and that this is a strength of the play and the performance?
Whatever one thinks of this, a character who proves to have rather more spark is brother John’s wife Mary, well played by Catherine Kinsella. It is her intervention, leading to the denouement, which catches some of the audience by surprise and sends them back out to comfortable Guildford pondering on the awful possibility that the whole thing might be going to happen again.
Rutherford and Sonruns at The Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford until Saturday 18th May 2013.