The Theatreguide.London Review
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
self-made 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.
The daughter 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
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
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
In 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
But as I said at the start 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 instinct.
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 attractive..
And 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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