Home » Reviews » Off West End » Rutherford and Son, Watford Palace Theatre

Rutherford and Son, Watford Palace Theatre

KG Sowerby
Directed by Jonathan Miller

★★★★

Pros: An important play, powerfully directed by Jonathan Miller, with excellent dramatic leads.

Cons: Some of the secondary male characters seemed far too shallow – but then in many ways this adds to the anger against male oppression which the play explores.

Our Verdict: Excellent performances, excellent direction, excellent lighting, excellent edit of the script. All in all, excellent!

Courtesy of Watford Palace Theatre

Rutherford and Son was written in 1912 by KG Sowerby, and first performed at the Royal Court. At
the time, it was a smash hit so when it was publicly announced that KG Sowerby was, in fact, Githa Sowerby, a woman, there was conflict. No-one could deny that this was a brilliant play, yet it had been written by a woman at a time when general opinion was adamant that the woman’s role should be limited to the home. A whole raft of patronising articles and discussions followed. Yet to me, with my 21st century eyes, I would find it hard to watch this play and not know immediately that it was written by a woman.

What unfolds in this drama of family life is a group of people who have all been destroyed by the indomitable rise and fall of one man. We see all three of his children, whose spirits have been crushed by his efforts to give them the life he thinks they deserve, when in actual fact he is depriving them of just that. One son has become a curate, and the laughing stock of the town, and the other has married a woman the family clearly don’t like, and he isn’t doing anything with his life. Which leaves the daughter, Judith. Wonderfully portayed by Sara Poyzer, this character steals the show. Isolated since childhood and still unmarried at 36, Judith is keeping a secret from her father which, when revealed, may tear the family apart.

Judith isn’t the only magnificent female character in this play. Catherine Kinsella plays Mary, the young wife of one of the sons who is forced to sacrifice any happiness for the sake of her own son. Mary envies the house, the food, the warmth of the world she finds herself in while Judith desires what she feels she has missed out on. She is willing to sacrifice the comfort of her life for the love she knows she’s missing, and it is heartbreaking to watch as both women are inevitably disappointed.

The play unfolds on one of the most beautifully lit shows I have seen in a long time, and as this show is currently touring, this is doubly impressive feet. The minimal lighting serves to hammer home the isolation of the women in this house, and Guy Hoare has done a wonderful job of incorporating both genuine candle light and traditional theatre lighting.

This is a tale of how the grass is always greener, but the trappings of your life mean you’ll never reach that ‘other side’. John Rutherford has worked hard all his life for his family – and he wants them to know it. He could be seen as noble, yet it has been a long time since I have sat in a theatre with such raging hatred for a character. His utter callousness and cruelty to all those around him serves to explain the equally awful behaviour of other members of the family. Barrie Rutter’s performance as John Rutherford is overwhelming in his tyrannical attitudes and callous disregard for everyone around him, and Jonathan Miller’s direction of the entire cast is magnificent.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!

Rutherford and Son runs at the Watford Palace theatre until 30th March 2013.
Box office: 01923 225 671 or book online at: http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?agency=WATFORDNEW&organ_val=23877&schedule=list&&event_val=1450

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