Rutherford and Son, is a dark play, literally, due to the lighting design by Anna Watson. The over long first half have leaves your eyes desperately adjusting to the lights in the foyer as you leave the auditorium. Luckily the much shorter second act does not suffer from the problem with the action taking place during the day.
This co-production by Northern Stage and Threshold Theatre of Githa Sowerby’s play has a lot going for it, such as being set in the North East, strong story, terrific set design by Naomi Dawson, yet it for some reason it fails to grip.
I felt this was because John Rutherford, the father who the family are afraid of, the man for whom dinner must be ready whatever time he walks in the house and the employer of many men in the glass works, is built up to be a mighty force to be reckoned with. But, Fred Pearson, as Rutherford, does not come across as a daunting character who everyone would fear to challenge. With the opening of the play setting up the return of the Rutherford, it is a great disappointment when he finally walks in the door and appears to look more like a friendly uncle, than a tyrannical man who makes everyone jump to his every word.
The plot revolves around the whole Rutherford family, the aforementioned tyrannical father, one son in the clergy and the other living at the fathers home (with his apparent timid wife and baby son) recovering from an accident. Also in the house are the elderly aunt and lonely daughter.
While recovering at his father’s house, John Rutherford (Ross Waiton) stumbles across an invention that he wishes to patent. He knows his father would want the invention for the factory rather than allow his son to make money from it and is determined that will not happen. He cannot see that in the long term it would benefit him anyway, as he will become the owner of the family business. So he secretly gives the instructions to Martin (Dickon Tyrrell) the man his father trusts most and works at the factory, in the hope he can run tests on the invention. Meanwhile his wife, Mary (Laura Haddock) unhappily lives in the family home, feeling like an outsider she only puts up with it, as they have nowhere else to live and she needs to care for their baby son.
Rutherfords daughter, Janet (Tracy Gillman) spends her days apparently looking out of the widow, as life and love seem to have passed her by. The secret relationship she maintains has not been noticed by the family by so far, but her secret is about to be revealed.
One by one the family relationships breakdown, finally the father totally isolated in his lonely world, which leaves him powerless to reject the final bargain put to him by his daughter in law, no matter what the cost.
Rutherford and Son is certainly a great piece of theatre that deserves this revival but it could have delivered much more of an impact. That said, Director Richard Beecham has made full use of Stage 1 and makes you realise exactly how large the stage actually is.