Theatre Review: Rutherford and Son, St James Theatre

“The family business is a millstone round your neck”

It’s nice to be able to get the opportunity to follow through on recommendations from other bloggers – on a snowy day in Colchester, Gareth advised me to try and catch Northern Broadsides’ revival of Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son on its original tour but I was unable to fit it into the diary. So the announcement of its transfer to the St James was a most welcomed one but also a pleasing fit for what one hopes will be a frequent use for this newest of London’s theatres.

Set in 1912, John Rutherford is an archetypal paterfamilias, ruling both at work and at home with at iron fist. But the family business, a Yorkshire glassworks, is struggling and his three adult children are all entirely dissatisfied with their lot – his professional success has come at huge personal cost and it takes the most unexpected intervention to get him to even consider the changes would secure his legacy.

It is grim and dark and repressed, but also fierce and powerful and surprisingly relevant. A woman writing well ahead of her time, Sowerby nails much of what is so important about family dynamics both around the dinner table and in the work place, especially in a household that is so dominated by one man whose efforts have transformed their social position yet left them stranded without a clue. 

Barrie Rutter is just excellent as the blindly bull-headed capitalist, unseeing if not uncaring about the lot of his children as he pursues his relentless crusade to try and save the firm and there’s also a malicious sense of manipulative glee that comes from his self-righteous self-sacrificing – he just loves lording it over the roost. Catherine Kinsella as the daughter-in-law who is the one who holds the key to a brighter future is also strong, building up the stature of her character as she, and the others, come to realise what she can offer to save them all.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 29th June

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