Feminist cry from 1912
Rutherford and Son, Crucible Theatre
It seems quite remarkable that such an out-and-out feminist play should date back to 1912. And that Githa Sowerby’s hitherto rather overlooked drama is also about so much more – the stifling effect of tradition and status, family loyalties, the perils of capitalism, etc.
Owen Teale’s patriarch John Rutherford is not a shouty tyrant but delivers cruel words coldly and casually to demand everyone must know their place. And they do, especially his two sons.
Not just the family but society at large, it seems, with the cap-doffing foreman (Brian Lonsdale) choosing some skewed sense of duty over love even when cast out.
The daughter Janet starts out a cowed figure, seemingly accepting without question her life of drudgery, until in a spell-binding scene between Laura Elphinstone and Teale love empowers her to vent her frustrations.
While the men are uniformly worthless it is only the women who stand up to Rutherford. There’s Lizzie Roper’s hilarious battleaxe Mrs Henderson whose intervention sets the cat among the pigeons and ultimately daughter-in-law Mary (Danusia Samal) who plays him at his own game.
If it all sounds a little too grim up north, there are many light moments in Caroline Steinbeis’s impeccable production which, apart from anything else, has the distinction of introducing a real baby to the stage.