Rutherford and Son

Rutherford and Son, at St James Theatre

Gritty and totally compelling: a rare work from 1912 woman playwright Githa Sowerby enthrals at St James Theatre. Read my review of Rutherford and Son

Rutherford and Son, at St James Theatre

Barrie Rutter, Catherine Kinsella and Nicholas Shaw in ‘Rutherford and Son’

“….intense, relentless and gripping piece..exceptional and compelling..”

A remarkable play with a remarkable history, Githa Sowerby’s ‘Rutherford and Son’ has opened at St James Theatre.

First produced in 1912 at the Royal Court Theatre, its authorship was accredited to KG Sowerby, in order to conceal the playwright’s gender.  Although a number of women playwrights were coming to the fore at the beginning of the 20th century, perhaps the best known being Cicely Hamilton, it was still unusual to say the least!  At a time when women of reasonably well to do backgrounds were expected to do little but sit, be dainty and bear children, the discovery of Sowerby’s identity caused a media flurry of astonishment that a woman could write something so gritty and powerful.

The direction of this production (Jonathan Miller) is at times a little too static, especially for a modern theatre without a proscenium arch.  Nonetheless, this is an intense, relentless and gripping piece with levels of tension drawing the audience ever closer into the oppressive dining room of a cold and cold-hearted big house on the cold wintry moors. The expository at the beginning of the play is a touch too self-conscious and long, but this otherwise well-constructed work still manages to enthral and shock even modern-day audiences, in a style reminiscent of Greek-tragedy depicting a family dictatorship headed for self-destruction.

Barrie Rutter, artistic director of the company and leading man of the production, is utterly convincing as the overbearing, yet wily bully of the family, cruel in his truthfulness and ruthless in his accurate assessments of both people and business. And yet, our sympathies for this character are still sometimes invoked. There are moments in the script where surprising acts of past fairness are revealed and unpleasant or not, we are forced to face the truths he speaks so plainly.

Other standout performances were by Sara Poyzer as Janet, 35 year old spinster daughter of the house, as brutally honest as her father in her own way, longing for love and desperate to escape the oppression in which her manufactured gentility has imprisoned her; Catherine Kinsella as Mary, whose gentle manner belies the tough realism causing her to strike the unspeakable bargain, and Kate Anthony as the embittered old Aunt Ann, still fiercely wielding her domestic power over the other women in the house, and whose accent sounded the most authentic. Richard Standing provides good contrast too as the over-awed long-standing foreman at Rutherford’s glassworks, the failing family business.

Yorkshire based company Northern Broadsides are known for taking classical works and re-setting them in Yorkshire. Rutherford and Son was originally set in Tyneside with its own idiosyncratic idiom. Rutter neverthess decided to have it re-worked to create a more generally Northern piece, peppered with specifically Yorkshire vocabulary. Strangely though, much of the dialogue still has a distinctly Geordie rhythm to it, and some of the more archaic language aside, it would be interesting to hear it in the original form.

It is not an easy night out, but this compelling and exceptional work deserves to be seen, and appropriately the St James Studio will be staging a one-woman piece, ‘Githa’, on the playwright later in the month as part of its play season.

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About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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One Response to Rutherford and Son

  1. Pingback: Githa | Capital Cabarets And Other Shows Scene

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