Review: Rutherford & Son

Barrie Rutter as John Rutherford
Barrie Rutter as John Rutherford
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Hull Truck Theatre

A 100-year-old play that sizzles and crackles – thanks largely to a new version from Blake Morrison – this feels like it could have been cast yesterday.

And cast is the right word, because the sheer weight of this piece is something to behold.

Written by Githa Sowerby in 1912, this play caused a sensation when it was discovered it had been written by a woman. The fact that it was written by a woman is perhaps the key to why it remains so potent a piece of work – the degrees of separation between the equality of the sexes may have lessened with time, but the glass ceiling still exists for women in business and it is that theme that sits at the heart of this play. Essentially an account of a family coming to the end of its long reign, with a patriarch looking desperately for an heir to bequeath his empire – while pushing all his heirs away – this is a Shakespearean tale.

No wonder, really, given that it is presented by the most Yorkshire of Shakespearean specialists Northern Broadsides. Rutherford is a factory owner, a man who has dragged himself up by his bootstraps and who wants his line to continue. His two sons, however, give him little hope, one a hopeless inventor and one who has dedicated his life to the clergy. The women of the family, obviously to Rutherford, are there for no more than removing the boots of the men. The power struggles between every member of the family make for a simmering pot of tension and the scope of the story really is on an epic scale.

To March 9, West Yorkshire Playhouse, April 3 to 13.