Advertisement

Rutherford and Son: a portrait of a family business

Theatre review: Rutherford and Son Rutherford and Son offers a snapshot of economic and social life in Edwardian England.

954-RaS-634
A snapshot of economic and social life in Edwardian England

Johan Persson

Rutherford and SonBy Githa SowerbyDirected by Polly FindlayRunning at the National Theatre until 3 August

Industrial chemist John Rutherford Jnr (Sam Troughton), estranged from his father as the result of a marriage to a working-class woman, Mary (Anjana Vasan), is forced by necessity to return home. He has developed an invention that could potentially revolutionise the way glass is made. John Snr (Roger Allam) wants him to use the invention to save the family firm. John Jnr believes he is entitled to patent it and sell the secret to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, John Jnr's siblings, curate Richard (Harry Hepple) and spinster Janet (Justine Mitchell), have their own plans for the future.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The main theme of the play is the impact that the burly patriarch, who is clearly a manipulative bully who will accept nothing less than blind obedience, has on his children and employees. But the victims of his bullying are not entirely sympathetic either. His elder son is petulant and self-centred, the foreman Martin (Joe Armstrong) is dog-like in his devotion to his "master". Predictably, this subservience only acts to make John Snr even more of a monster. Tellingly, the only character to win his respect is the one who treats him in the same way he has treated others.

The play was written in 1912, a time when Britain was still considered an economic superpower, but there is a pervading sense that, like the firm, the country's best days are now behind it. As John Snr admits, the formerly prosperous glass factory now makes a loss and faces the very real prospect of either going out of business, or being sold to a rival. While he is able to marshall various excuses for that unfair foreign competition, unsympathetic bankers and shareholders only concerned with short-term profits but one gets the impression that the real reason for the factory's troubles lies with its owner, particularly in his feudal style of management and resistance to change.

The play is marked by some strong, compelling performances, especially from Roger Allam. Justine Mitchell also delivers a strong performance as the daughter who has been ruined by her father's desire to keep her tied to him. At the same time, the

play's atmosphere is enhanced by a wonderful set, which perfectly evokes a gloomy soot-stained drawing room in a mansion in the north of England. Some of the stronger accents could have been toned down a little, but it's easy enough to understand what is going on. This play is definitely worth catching, and one that works equally well as a piece of drama and as a snapshot of economic and social life in the Edwardian period.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/spending-it/films/600911/theatre-review-the-visit
Films

Theatre review: The Visit

Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Swiss classic The Visit, transported to 1950s America, poses the question: how much would you kill for?
28 Feb 2020
Visit/519325/six-contrarian-books-for-christmas
Films

Six contrarian books for Christmas

Merryn Somerset Webb picks six of her favourite contrarian books to help you look clever and perhaps win a few arguments over the Christmas dinner tab…
9 Dec 2019
Visit/513323/coming-to-terms-with-anna-sorokin
Films

Coming to terms with Anna Sorokin

My Friend Anna: The true story of the fake heiress of New York CityWilliams is a solid writer who does a good job of explaining how she, and other int…
21 Aug 2019
Visit/513324/book-in-the-news-the-inside-story-of-spains-tumultuous-crisis
Films

Book in the news… the inside story of Spain’s tumultuous crisis

After the Fall Crisis, Recovery and the Making of a New SpainA book that goes beyond politics to offer a deeply sympathetic portrayal of a country.
21 Aug 2019

Most Popular

Visit/economy/eu-economy/601422/heres-why-investors-should-care-about-the-eus-plan-to-tackle-covid-19
EU Economy

Here’s why investors should care about the EU’s plan to tackle Covid-19

The EU's €750bn rescue package makes a break-up of the eurozone much less likely. John Stepek explains why the scheme is such a big deal, and what it …
28 May 2020
Visit/investments/commodities/industrial-metals/601401/money-printing-infrastructure-base-metals-copper
Industrial metals

Governments’ money-printing mania bodes well for base metals

Money is being printed like there is no tomorrow. Much of it will be used to pay for infrastructure projects – and that will be good for metals, says …
27 May 2020
Visit/investments/funds/601385/in-support-of-active-fund-management
Funds

In support of active fund management

We’re fans of passive investing here at MoneyWeek. But active fund management has its place too, says Merryn Somerset Webb.
25 May 2020