Rutherford and Son has the reminiscence of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard; an early 20th Century family run business is faced with ruin due to the change of economy and an alteration of means of income for the nation. Although Chekhov’s family are dependent on the landscaped estate on which they live, Governor Rutherford has brought his family up similarly on the adjacent house to their industrial factory “Rutherford and Son’s”. Director Caroline Steinbeis brings the pressure of a changing economic climate and a father’s resistance to acknowledging a different path for his sons through a cast that, although initially clunky, bring the drama and intensity to a wonderfully designed set.
The lighting opened up wonderfully with a stylised imprint of a window frame on the stage floor. Danusia Samal enters as Mary with a baby and stares aimlessly into the audience, her silhouette standing wonderfully in the stylised lighting. Her performance, alongside Ciarán Owens as John began nervous and jumpy, justifiably so as it was opening night. It was lovely to see that they, along with the rest of the cast, settled in very quickly and I’d have loved to have see the growth in the power of characterisation on closing night.
The intensity of the play was given its full justification through wonderfully timed pauses and a range of voices. The slow accumulation did not feel drawn out, and the final scene of intense passion was warmly welcomed, as it highlighted each actor’s impressive performance. Vicky Richardson casted what could have been a laborious three hours but the production team pulled off an exceptional 20th century family drama with a highlight of 21st century talent.
The fragmented staging worked wonderfully by removing the back wall; the visitors are shown before and after they’ve left the house, allowing pacing and racing towards the door to be seen. With Governor Rutherford’s (Owen Teale) full intimidating control to overcome each member of his family slowly, furthered by his portrait and ‘Rutherford and Son’ logo physically beaming down onto each family member’s decision, the play leaves each audience member both pitying and infuriated by the events which unfold.
Image: All Sheffield Theatres