A nice stroll along the South Bank leads me to the National Theatre and a visit to Rutherford and Son on the Lyttleton stage, a return to the National after 25 years for Githa Sowerby’s exemplar of early 20th century Naturalism, writes Christopher Peacock.

In this production you can see that directer Polly Findlay wants to create an atmosphere within the auditorium from the very start. There is live choral music being sung and the stage is set with a rain curtain. The heavily detailed living room space of a turn of the century middle class home is an excellent piece of stage design. The home is that of Mr Rutherford, an owner of a glassworks whose fate is not looking too positive. 

Like many naturalist plays of its era, not a lot happens and it is more of an examination of family and class. In this case we watch the family slowly unravelling as Mr. Rutherford’s patriarchal manner ends up driving his two sons and daughter away. As Rutherford strives to cement his family in the middle classes and leave a legacy, his business is slowly failing. Roger Allam brings a presence to the role that fills the room in his depiction of an overbearing father figure to all three of his children, until they ultimately leave. My only criticism was that being set in Northumberland the accent work for some of the cast needed refining and was at times hard to understand. That being said, Roger Allam’s portrayal of Mr Rutherford is brilliant, and Justine Mitchell as Janet (Mr Rutherford’s daughter) was fantastic – the two standouts in a very strong cast.

If you’re a fan of naturalism and fancy a bit of Geordie Chekhov anytime soon then I would say Rutherford and Son would be a sure thing for you.

Rutherford and Son is on at The National Theatre, South Bank, SE1 until 3rd August: Times: Mon – Sat 7.30pm; Sat & Wd matinees 2.15pm. Admission: £32 – £88. Phone: 020 7452 3000


Images: Johan Persson