Tag Archives: roger allam

Rutherford and Son (National Theatre, Lyttelton)

Given the fact that the National Theatre’s next season has few female writers, it is good to see this revival of Githa Sowerby’s 1912 family drama, set in the industrial North Country.

Roger Allam and Justine Mitchell.

Roger Allam and Justine Mitchell.

The Rutherfords are the wealthiest family in the town, factory owners and major employers. Mr Rutherford (Roger Allam) is a widower with three grown children: Richard (Harry Hepple), a curate; Janet (Justine Mitchell), a spinster of 36; and John (Sam Troughton), a nervous consumptive who married low and has a sickly baby son.

With them live Miss Rutherford (Barbara Marten), a moral force of repression, and maid Susan – never seen. Mr Rutherford’s right-hand man at work is Martin (Joe Armstrong), with a quarter-century of service, a plain man who holds his place in high regard.

Joe Armstrong.

Joe Armstrong.

At the opening of the play there’s heavy rain across the drab setting of the Rutherfords’ dining room cum office. Mary (Anjana Vasan), five years married to John and three months resident in the house, is still a stranger there.

Mr Rutherford, referred to by his son as “The Guvnor” rules his house with terror and bullying, repressing his daughter and mocking his sons, while maintaining the family business is destined for John. When John reveals he has developed a new formula to revolutionise the glass-works, father sets a downward spiral in motion.

Sam Troughton.

Sam Troughton.

With a haunting choir of six (oddly only four are credited in the programme), the scenes are set and bookended by quaintly chosen folk songs, and at the close of the second half the National’s revolve comes into play to good effect as the next heir to Rutherford’s fortune becomes the sole focus of attention.

Sowerby’s prose, inspired by first-hand experience, still feels fresh and relevant today, with themes of family, love, ambition, and business tricks. It’s a knowing portrait of a family whose head sees as above all others, but whose children feel awkward in their privilege.

Anjana Vasan.

Anjana Vasan.

It’s telling that the business passes purely through the male line – at no point was Janet, bright, independent and resolute (“when I take off your boots, I wish you dead”) ever considered, nor was her aunt before her. And it is the strength of a woman which ultimately saves the family line through a detached business deal. No room for sentiment in these dark times.

Directed by Polly Findlay, and designed in a style evocative of the period by Lizzie Clachan, Rutherford and Son is a classy revival of a modern classic.

Anjana Vasan.

Anjana Vasan.

Currently running at 2hr 45 with one interval after 55 minutes, this play at no time feels forced or dragged out. It would be interesting to see Sowerby’s other work revived for a new audience.

Rutherford and Son opens at the National Theatre on 28 May.

Photo credits Johan Persson.

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The Moderate Soprano (Duke of York’s)

There is no singing, operatic or otherwise, in The Moderate Soprano, which returns to the stage following a sell-out run at Hampstead three years ago.

There is Roger Allam in a curiously bad wig (and at one point, lederhosen) as the eccentric John Christie, who made his fortune from building and decided his destiny was to build an opera house in his garden – which became Glyndebourne, England’s answer to Bayreuth.

moderate_soprano_2Nancy Carroll as Audrey Mildmay (Christie) and Roger Allam as John Christie.

The soprano of the title (not moderate as in average, but as in gentle of voice) is John’s wife, Audrey, played by Nancy Carroll, and we meet both of them in the first scene after the Second World War, when their enterprise is to be taken under the control of a Trust, ‘for the people’.

We then go back to see how Glyndebourne came to be, by the tenacity and naivete of Christie, and the help of three refugees from the Nazis: Rudolf Bing, Carl Ebert, and Franz Busch.  So a truly English institution was modelled on the German model by three specialists in the production of Mozart.

There are hints and glimpses of politics pre-war, and these are done well, but they feel a bit lost in what is essentially a light comedy, and David Hare’s play, now split into two Acts with an interval, could do with an additional trim to stop the action dragging to a stop.

Paul Jesson, a stalwart of the RSC who I last saw playing Henry VIII at Stratford-upon-Avon, is Busch, a conductor who fell foul of promoting Jews above Gentiles for their talent in his opera house in Dresden, who was driven out after his orchestra took to wearing swastikas on their lapels.

Anthony Calf (best known perhaps, as Strickland in New Tricks) is Ebert, engaging with the Christies in characteristic Teutonic arrogance, and his assistant Bing is played by the very mannered Jacob Fortune-Lloyd.

The play is complex, but I felt it did not entirely convince.  The performances are broadly good (especially Allam, who gets to the core of the character and Jesson, who convinces as a man displaced and somewhat befuddled by political progress), but there is something missing, and the decline in health of both the Christies is not fully explained, or the fact the private enterprise seems to decline during wartime.

I was also a little disappointed with the frugality of the sets and backdrops, and the dig within the script to people prepared to pay high prices to watch opera (which is also true, these days, of London theatre).

Just a reasonable two hours of theatre, not unmissable by any means, and not an obvious candidate to see out its full run to the end of June; it probably suited the small space of the Hampstead Theatre far better.

FillWyI3NTAiLCI0MjIiXQ-TMS-Nancy-Carroll-and-Roger-Allam-Photo-Piers-Foley-Small2Nancy Carroll and Roger Allam visit Glyndebourne. Photo credit Piers Foley.


Shakespeare and Sylvia

Shakespeare’s Globe, at Bankside, London, has presented a range of plays suited to its open air stage over the past few years, but I wasn’t quite sure if they could pull off The Tempest, which with its storm, magic, and mystery seems to try out for an interior space where such things can be properly acted out.

Jeremy Herrin has brought a Tempest brimming full of comedy to the boards of The Globe, focusing less on the betrayal of Prospero by his brother and the blossoming love between Miranda and Ferdinand, and more on the misshapen Caliban and his drunken companions. Ariel, often melancholic or petulant, here is more of a Puck-like mischief maker, covered in feathers and moving around the set with cartwheels and acrobatics.

Roger Allam leads the cast and clearly relishes another chance to play at this unique theatre, where the audience are in your face and the regular aircraft services into London roar overhead. As Miranda, young Irish actress Jessie Buckley, fresh out of RADA, shows promise, although Joshua James made this production’s Ferdinand a bit too ‘silly ass’ in characterisation for my taste. James Garnon is a stand-out Caliban, although the ‘isles are full of wonder’ speech is somewhat lost in the play’s broad comedy. Colin Morgan isn’t my idea of Ariel, although he suits the mood.

A change of pace in the evening saw a full reading of Sylvia Plath’s restored masterpiece ‘Ariel’ at the Royal Festival Hall, introduced by her daughter Frieda Hughes. This evening was about forgetting Sylvia the ‘mad girl’ poet and all the material that had been written about her, or presented in the film about her and Ted Hughes. In ‘Ariel’, Plath finally found her voice and if the poems presented here are occasionally a little rough around the edges, or troubling in their focus on anger and depression, that does not detract from their genius. I have always admired her as a writer, and hearing thirty-nine different voices presenting her work (including actresses Juliet Stevenson, Susan Wooldridge, Kate Fahy, Harriet Walter, Deborah Findlay, Haydn Gwynne, Anna Chancellor, Miranda Richardson, Anastasia Hille, Victoria Hamilton, Phyllis Logan, Emily Bruni, Stella Gonet, Samantha Bond, Annabelle Apsion, Maureen Beattie and Siobhan Redmond; and poets Lavinia Greenlaw, Vicki Feaver, Julia Copus, Jean Sprackland, Ruth Fainlight, Gillian Clarke and Jo Shapcott) as well as Plath herself reciting ‘Daddy’, brought her words into sharp relief.

Stand-outs, if I had to pick them, would be Berck Plage (Walter), Lady Lazarus (Bruni), Cut (Amy McAllister), The Detective (Beattie), Fever 103 (Hamilton), and Death & Co (Chancellor), but all were accomplished and about the writer, not the speaker. Poetry as theatre can be difficult and inaccessible, especially when you consider a poet as ‘loaded’ in her history as Sylvia Plath, but this evening did achieve a tribute to her work without focusing too much on her demons.


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