“You can’t envisage it until you walk in and think, ‘Wow!’ It’s incredible, a phenomenal space to work in, so unique.”
Kate seems as enthused by the problems it presents (timing the long walks in when the audience can see you, avoiding those mid-stage pillars, and so on) as with the “fantastic and beautiful” acting space.
Kate Anthony was taking time out from technical rehearsals at the Viaduct the day before the first preview performance (February 8th) of Northern Broadsides’ latest production, Rutherford & Son. This is an exciting venture for Broadsides in many ways, not least the fact that it is being directed by another newcomer to Halifax, Sir Jonathan Miller. Barrie Rutter, who has so often combined acting and directing for Broadsides, concentrates on the role of Rutherford.
The play itself is a fascinating choice. Written in 1912 by Githa Sowerby, it deals with a Northern industrialist who has ideas above his station and problems with his three children. It has to be another Hobson’s Choice! Not so, says Kate.
“It’s a wonderful story about a Northern family that could be set now. It’s basically about family relationships, how Rutherford’s relationships with his children have fallen apart because of his love for building them up to be a better class of person and the love of the company. It’s a beautifully written piece, quite dark. Jonathan compares it a lot to Chekhov, especially to The Cherry Orchard. I can see what he means – the amazing odd disjointed family.”
The play’s history adds to the interest. A success in 1912, with an immediate American production and Sowerby acclaimed as a great playwright, it disappeared without trace for decades, but in the 21st century it has been staged twice in the UK and twice by the New York-based Mint Theater which specialises in reviving worthy, but forgotten, plays. Sowerby herself also disappeared from view, with the occasional play or children’s story appearing. Even though her daughter is still alive, Githa Sowerby (who initially hit behind initials to conceal her gender) remains something of a woman of mystery. Kate, whose main comment on a biography of Sowerby is that it’s “a slim volume”, explains:
“Githa Sowerby was a very private person. She insisted when she died that all her private letters, communications, anything she’d written, be destroyed so unfortunately we don’t have a huge amount of knowledge about her. We know she came from a glass-making family in the North East and she was a very political woman, a member of the Fabian Society, quite an independent spirit. We don’t know why she wrote so little after Rutherford & Son, but there’s a feeling that this play had said what she wanted to say.”
Kate herself plays Ann, Rutherford’s unmarried sister, stuck in the past and believing totally in her brother and his pride in the company and the family. His children are less accommodating. His elder son has no interest in the company, his other son is a vicar and Kate drops enough hints about his daughter to suggest she might be the most interesting and independent character of all. She is unwilling to label the play “feminist”, but points out that the women are the stronger characters – and clearly relishes the fact that there are great parts for women in Rutherford & Son.
The play has been edited by Blake Morrison, but there is no suggestion that it’s been fundamentally altered. Githa Sowerby was from Gateshead and Rutherford & Son was written in the accent and speech rhythms of the North East. For various reasons – the main one probably the identification of Broadsides with a trans-Pennine world – it was decided to move the play a little further south and Blake Morrison has made some minor alterations to that end. There is no suggestion of updating, a practice Dr. Miller spoke out against in a recent Observer interview. Everything is firmly in period, from Isabella Bywater’s solid set onwards, though without the twee Downton Abbey-ish prettiness that Barrie Rutter apparently found in the New York production.
After her first experience of the Viaduct, Kate has a 14-venue tour lasting nearly four months to look forward to. Long enough for boredom with the production to set in? Hardly! Given the many different stage configurations Broadsides play in – none of them exactly like the Viaduct – the production has to renew itself constantly as, in Kate’s words, “a brand new play wherever you go.” So late-May audiences in York will see as fresh a production as the mid-February habitués of the Viaduct.
Complete Tour dates for Rutherford & Son are:
February 8-16 The Viaduct, Halifax
February 19-23 The Dukes, Lancaster
February 26 - March 2 Oxford Playhouse
March 5-9 Hull Truck Theatre
March 12-16 New Vic, Newcastle under Lyme
March 19-23 The Rose, Kingston upon Thames
March 26-30 Watford Palace Theatre
April 2-13 West Yorkshire Playhouse
April 16-20 The Lowry, Salford
April 23-27 Stephen Joseph Theatre
April 30 - May 4 Theatre Royal Winchester
Mary 14-18 Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford
May 21-15 Liverpool Playhouse
May 28 - June 1 York Theatre Royal
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