Allam’s Rutherford is masterfully acted as he lives and breathes a life of business as the boss of the family glass company. Bent on building a family legacy, he runs his house as ruthlessly as he does his business, bullying his grown children while struggling to lift their family status in their northern town. But when his son John Jnr (Sam Troughton), who was sent to Harrow by his father only to marry a working class woman Mary (Anjana Vasan), invents a more efficient process to make glass, the long-simmering tensions within the family boil over.
Findlay directs with an understated but resolute hand. Using Lizzie Clachan’s design, a compacted Lyttleton stage transformed into a patterned, gloomy and oppressive living room, Findlay cleverly reveals the fraught relationships between characters through their engagement with the space. And the music too, composed by Kerry Andrew and sung by Sarah Dacey, Roshi Nasehi, and Osnat Schmool, creates an appropriately ominous and hostile atmosphere, although perhaps the repetition of the lyric ‘the north country’ is a bit on the nose.
Occasionally the understated quality of the drama means the pacing lags, particularly when Sally Rogers’s Mrs Henderson appears at the Rutherford house to plead for her son’s job back. And the tightness of the set means a lack of visual movement, rendering the three-hour evening a bit static (with only some rainfall pre and post show to bring the rest of the stage in). When Rutherford’s other son Richard (Harry Hepple), a curate, asks his father’s approval to move parishes, he is brutally dismissed by his father, but the scene lacks the intense knottiness between father and son that exists between Allam and Troughton.
Yet while the title of the play speaks to the men in the family, it’s the roles of the women that resonate most. Rutherford’s daughter Janet, tenderly and expertly played by Justine Mitchell, bitterly dreams of a life that she feels her father has stolen from her. And Vasan’s Mary, whose primary goal is a secure future for her son Tony, wields extreme savvy and care in a world that is only ever inhospitable to her.
Findlay’s production may not be perfect, but it certainly succeeds at highlighting the astonishing insight Sowerby’s play demonstrates of the era. It’s good to see that Rutherford and Son is now firmly established as canon, and let’s hope it remains so.
|What||Rutherford and Son, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
16 May 19 – 31 Aug 19, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Price||£15 - £84|
|Website||Click here to book and for more information|