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Rutherford and Son, St James Theatre

Githa Sowerby 
Directed by Jonathan Miller

Pros: Strong and nuanced acting, especially the central performance of Rutherford, and a beautiful period set. 

Cons: At two and a half hours long, the heavy storyline could be a bit too much for some.

Our Verdict: Grim and somewhat old fashioned, it is a hard going-evening but still an enjoyable production with compelling performances. It is worth going to see if you like a period drama.

Courtesy of St James Theatre

Set in the north of England in 1912, this play paints a vivid picture of an Edwardian family presided over by an authoritarian father. Exploring themes of class, love, women in society and capitalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this play is quite old fashioned. However, there are still areas of relevance for a modern day audience.

John Rutherford presides over his household while attempting to ensure the continuation of his successful glassworks factory. The family is beyond dysfunctional in a time before the phrase was penned. Janet, the eldest
daughter who, at 36 despises her father for not allowing her to marry, is taunted for her spinster state and treated like a maid. John (Nicholas Shaw) is Rutherford’s eldest son who went to Harrow and came back, and married Mary (Catherine Kinsella), a Londoner who is viewed as ‘beneath him’ but whom we later discover is quite the business woman. His youngest son is Richard (Andrew Grose), a vicar, who has been bullied his whole life by his father and subsequently has no confidence and is not respected by his parishioners.

Rutherford is fixated on his business and unperturbed by his family’s woes. His glassworks business is like his first-born child and he is willing to sacrifice his other children for the sake of ensuring the company continues to be successful, including betraying his son to obtain his invention. As a result of their father’s dictatorial reign over the household, the family begins to break after years of expanding hairline fractures.

Barrie Rutter is brilliant as Rutherford. It would be all too easy to play Rutherford as a typical baddie, a ranting man doing nothing but barking orders at those around him. However, Rutter and director Jonathan Miller have recognised the nuances of this character. An intelligent man, he uses his power as the man of the house to manipulate his family. Alongside the shouting and table banging, he uses rare moments of softness, undetected sarcastic tones, gestures and expressions but, most disconcertingly, silence, to make those around him beholden to him. Neither his family nor the audience can ignore such a presence on stage.

Thank goodness there is some humour in the first part of the show, as it soon becomes much heavier as the story unfolds. This is mainly delivered by Kate Anthony as Ann, Rutherford’s sister. Anthony’s comic timing and tone that she delivers the lines in is reminiscent of her Coronation Street wit and kept the audience chuckling early in the production. While Sara Poyzer as Janet, Rutherford’s oldest daughter, shows her versatility.  In the first half she is acerbic and sarcastic; snide remarks and disobedient gestures show that she is unable to hide her contempt for her father. However, by the second half, her lifetime of pain and oppression overwhelms her and starts to leak out in a dramatic portrayal of a woman on the edge of breaking point.

There was not a member of the cast who did not play their part well but most of the supporting characters were undeveloped. Though, Catherine Kinsella as Mary, despite not getting the chance to shine until close to the end of the production, injects an incredible amount of strength and pain into her performance when she is forced to make a heart-wrenching and shocking bargain.

All set in one room, I was grateful for the decision to make the set grand and inviting. Beautiful solid wood doors and floors, antique furniture and wing back chairs brought a grandness and warmth to a stage that was full of coldness and hatred between the characters.

Blake Morrison has also done a wonderful job of adjusting the original text by Githa Sowerby to make it easier for 21st century ears. This has been done with great care, not removing too many of the 1912 Northern idioms but also ensuring the language is understandable and accessible. Without doing this, I think that this incredibly heavy-going play could have been too much for some.

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

Rutherford and Sons runs at St James Theatre until the 29th June 2013
Box Office: 0844 264 2140 or book online at http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/book-tickets/?event=11512

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One comment

  1. Totally agree with your comments about the great acting of Kate Anthony

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