The Theatreguide.London Review
Rutherford And Son
Lyttelton Theatre Summer 2019
That Rutherford And Son
has a solid, well-made, old-fashioned feel to it is little surprise.
It was written in 1912.
That its female
characters are all strong
(and strongly written) and its men all emotionally stunted tells you
(if you hadn't known) that the playwright, Githa Sowerby, was an
insightful and talented woman.
That the play was
rediscovered by the
National Theatre twenty-five years ago after decades of being
forgotten, and that it is now revived again in a fully engrossing
first-class production reminds us that this is one of the things a
National Theatre is for.
Rutherford is a Northern
industrialist who rules his family as he rules his glass factory,
through instilling fear and brooking no opposition.
He knows he has
emasculated his sons and exploited his old-maid-at-37 daughter, but
feels no blame or responsibility for it, merely disdain toward them
for being so weak.
Rutherford's eldest son
would not particularly
mind joining the family firm; indeed, he has developed a new process
for making glass that would be of great value to it. But he wants to
sell it to the company and get some credit and profit from it, and
his father will not grant him even that much respect.
has belatedly found love with a man who is suitable in every way
except class, and Rutherford would sooner banish her than let her
disgrace him by marrying down.
The play is built on
these and other
family wars, and it is no spoiler to say that father wins all the
battles over money and power, and loses all those involving human
Director Polly Findlay
is wise enough to treat the play with
absolute respect and conviction, embracing its old-fashionedness and
occasional awkwardness along with its unquestionable dramatic
strengths and character insights – which is to say that things
sometimes get a bit melodramatic and overly spelled-out for modern
tastes, but that these 'flaws' become absorbed into the play's power.
Roger Allam invests
Rutherford with the only slightly ridiculous
majesty of a man who never ever wavers from the absolute knowledge
that he is right and everyone else is wrong. It is very much to the
actor's credit that we also sense the pathos in a man firmly and
determinedly walking toward isolation and personal failure.
contrast, Sam Troughton shows the son to be a man who is right about
almost everything but lacks the character depth to do anything with
his rightness. And as the old man's longest-serving and most trusted
employee Joe Armstrong draws the pitiful portrait of a man who has
totally internalised a servant mentality.
But as I said at the
it is the women who really dominate the play. Justine Mitchell builds
the very attractive (and very modern without being anachronistic)
image of the daughter on equal parts beaten-down exhaustion,
newly-discovered potential for happiness and indestructible survival
She may not be as
blindly sure of her rightness as her
father, but in core strength she is very much his daughter, and
tempered by human feelings as it is, in her that power is very
Anjana Vasan invests the son's wife – the 'outsider' in the family
– with a quiet intelligence that makes it as believable as
surprising that in the end it is she who most successfully stands up
to the tyrant.
They don't write plays like this any more, which is a real shame. And so we must celebrate the National Theatre, the director and designers, and the cast, for the gift of this challenging, stimulating, moving and entertaining dramatic experience.
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