Interview: Rutherford and Son is as much about the daughter
Among all the enthusiastic reviews for Rutherford and Son at the Crucible many have picked out a compelling scene in which Laura Elphinstone as the daughter Janet confronts her overbearing father played by Owen Teale.
Githa Sowerby’s play about a Newcastle factory owner in 1912 and is disappointment with his sons also highlights the plight of women in the Edwardian era. “Janet is 36 years old and unmarried,” explains the actress. “She is left at home living with her father and her aunt, her mother having died. While the brothers have had the chance to go out in the world, they were sent to school at Harrow, she hasn’t.
She hasn’t been allowed to make connections with people in the area because they are not seen as people with the right status. “She is a girl who is uneducated and just taught the joys of sewing. He wants her to be a lady. Rutherford has never thought anyone is good enough for her and she hasn’t the freedom to go out and meet people. “We meet her as she has formed a slight liaison but only to get out of her situation. She is quite fiery and doesn’t believe the cards she has been dealt should be the law of the land. She doesn’t have to sit and sew and become a lady.” Rutherford and Son is a play that few had heard of and is only now getting some recognition. The National will follow Sheffield Theatres in giving it a revival this year. Laura Elphinstone admits to being unfamiliar with it and had to be reminded her mother directed an amdram production of Rutherford and Son back home in Sunderland. “I think I was too little to see it,“ she says. “I didn’t expect to find a feminist woman lying around a house in 1912. I come from the North East and it’s brilliant to see such a powerful story from the area showing what it is like. “I am surprised it has not been done more. The power of its language smacks of Arthur Miller and Ibsen. Especially at a time when people are desperate to find female playwrights.” Her appearance in Sheffield follows the busiest year of her career so far, filming the upcoming series of Game of Thrones, another HBO film, Chernobyl, the movie Military Wives and then a couple of episodes of Line of Duty. She can’t say much about any of them, although she confides that in Line of Duty: “Normally I play the ruffian but this time I’m a DI and had to deliver all this official technical stuff which took a while to get my head round. Military Wives stars Sharon Horgan and Kristin Scott Thomas in a fictional story about a band of misfit women who form a choir on a military base. The previous year she played a factory worker in Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, which she describes as “an intense experience and a long process.” “For the past five or six years I have been acting full time which is great because I have not just done film or telly, but radio and theatre. I want to be able to do everything, I don’t want to be type cast.”
Her appearance in Call the Midlife probably had a bigger audience than anything so far but she shudders at the memory. “It was not my most glamorous of roles. I was a mother having her first child and had rotten teeth because she had a fear of dentists. So there I was looking huge with rotten teeth, I just looked awful. I couldn’t watch it afterwards but my family did and lots of people have told me they have seen it. I am highly embarrassed and wish it was something else they had seen me in.”Rutherford and Son is at the Sheffield Crucible until Saturday, February 23.