Review: Rutherford and Son, National Theatre

A superb cast including Roger Allam elevates a fine production of Rutherford and Son at the National Theatre

“There’s not a scrap of love in the whole house”

It’s grim up north. I can say this as an absent son of t’other side of the Watford Gap. But in Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son,  it really is tough-going. Roger Allam’s mightily bearded Rutherford is a ferociously brutal industrialist from the north-east of England who is fierce at home as in the glassworks he runs but down a generation, there’s a growing tendency towards not putting up with such levels of grimness. 

One of his sons bogged off to London and has come back with a working class wife and child, the other wants to find God in Blackpool and his daughter has pretty much been the downtrodden whipping boy for 30-odd years. But it is the beginning of the twentieth century and change is afoot – political and personal, societal and sexual and writ large in the generational struggle here, it can be powerfully affecting.

Polly Findlay’s production is well-suited to the Lyttelton. Lizzie Clachan’s design is a picture-box of beautifully observed Edwardian detail matched to the kind of overbearing and ominous ambience that leaves you in no two minds about the way things are going to go. And Findlay plays with pacing effectively, the opening half is almost attritional in its creeping nature and then when surprises come, they really shock.

It is also blessed with a superb cast. Allam scorches as a man who can’t, or won’t, escape the self-destructiveness that has got him where he is. Beginning co-stars Sam Troughton and Justine Mitchell are reunited as two of the siblings, Mitchell being particularly impressive as learning how to rebel against the patriarchy. And Anjana Vasan (An Adventure, Summer and Smoke) continues her mightily impressive vein of form in a crucial role. 

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Rutherford and Son is booking at the National Theatre until 3rd August

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