Rutherford and Son recently featured in the National Theatre's 2000 platforms list of 100 plays that represent the progress of drama through the twentieth century. Proof that Githa Sowerby's classic tale of a family torn apart by a tyrannical father still has the power to provoke discussion.
Set on the desolate Northern Moor, life is a struggle for the whole community, not least the family of John Rutherford (Maurice Roeves), owner of the local glassworks factory. His desperate attempts to build up his business mean that his three grown up children are merely pawns in his struggle to retain his empire.
Janet (Maxine Peake) is the servant of the house and receives no fatherly love for her stolen years. John (Daniel Brocklebank) is desperate to make his own way in the world, but realises that his modern views will ultimately give his father the ammunition to shoot him down whilst his loyal wife watches in disbelief. Richard, (Jonas Armstrong) a young man of the cloth, at odds with the master of the house tries in vain to stop the family collapsing.
Ultimately as Rutherford continues to rip out the heart of his family, he must face up to the fact that his relationships within the house are damaged and almost beyond repair. He soon realises that he may have a business and a name, but without a family, what is he?
Despite a few wavering accents, all the performers acquit themselves very well indeed. Reeves strikes fear all around him as the father in name only. His gives a frightening performance, close to perfection. Peake is also marvellous as she transforms herself from obeying daughter to young woman, desperate to break free. Brocklebank displays his character's fragility superbly. While Christine Bottomley provides a perfect foil for the tyrant, calling his bluff in a commanding turn.
As the facade of the family crumbles, Simon Daw's glowing set provides the only warmth for the characters, whilst Steve Brown's evocative sound design chills to the bone.
Once this play gets into its stride, it has a vice-like grip and will not let go and director Sarah Frankcom reveals herself as a force to be reckoned with in this her third stunning production for the Royal Exchange.
On the night I went the audience were left speechless, hardly surprising as
Rutherford and Son is still intense and powerful, nine decades on.