A LETTER FROM LONDON: Once Goes Busking and Strange Interlude and Sweet Bird of Youth are Revived

By Ruth Leon
22 Jun 2013

Barrie Rutter in Rutherford and Son.
Photo by Nobby Clark
The rather ghostly (all billowing curtains and smoke) production by one of my favourite directors, Marianne Elliott, rather misses the blood and guts of Tennessee Williams' plot but at least allows the playwright's poetry to shine.

The third member of the gang, Arthur Miller, is missing this month but, if you want a real melodrama, one that could have starred Eugene O'Neill's actor father, you want Rutherford and Son, a fascinating period piece by Githa Sowerby, directed by Jonathan Miller, at the new St James Theatre. In it, a Victorian father who has terrorized his wife and all his children with his obsession with his glass manufacturing business, finds not only that he has alienated all of them but that his business is also in jeopardy.

It was a rare woman who wrote plays in 1912 and Githa Sowerby was just such a woman. Rutherford and Son was an instant hit at London's Royal Court Theatre. Nothing she wrote subsequently approached the gritty realism of her first play, nor its success. She has since become a heroine of the women's movement. Only late in her life (she died in 1970 at the age of 93) did she explain that the character of the father was based on her own grandfather, a cruel man whose sons eventually wrested the glass factory from his control.

Barrie Rutter, who runs Northern Broadsides, a theatre company which produces Shakespeare and other classic drama using regional accents rather than the conventional pronounciation, plays the father, and the conviction in the acting comes from the entire company, even if sometimes the Northern dialect is a little difficult to follow. Americans who have occasional difficulty with accents from other parts of their diverse nation will sympathize.