The fire that burns within
Families come in all shapes, sizes and facades. The Rutherford clan, dominated by father John (Roger Allam), is a study in draconian patriarchy, a household of suppressed emotions and domestic servility until the inevitable cracks appear and the iron fisted control fractures into the sum of its many dysfunctional parts. In a Northern industrial town, magnate John Rutherford rules both factory and family with an unrelenting force. But as the furnaces burn at the Glassworks his children begin to turn against him.
Githa Sowerby’s 1912 play, Rutherford and Son (National Theatre), is a heavyweight portrayal of the devastating impact of how abusive power can destroy all that it touches leaving those affected scarred for life. Polly Findlay’s absorbing production burns with barely suffused passions which begin with an intensely dramatic opening. Ann (Barbara Marten), sister to John, sits downstage, her steely stare fixed, empty yet ablaze with feeling. Slowly and inexorably she moves closer to us. Those first few unspoken moments encapsulate the drama that will unfold. Irresponsible, yet imaginative son John Junior (Sam Troughton) is married to unflinching Mary (Anjana Vasan) while daughter Janet (Justine Mitchell) is secretly enjoying carnal pleasures with Martin (Joe Armstrong), Rutherford’s most dependable employee. Other son Richard (Harry Hepple) a curate, has been dismissed as a shirker by his omniscient father.
During a heavy-handed first half there are moments when the intelligent but verbose text threatens to give a burdensome Edwardian hand off to the drama. Yet such is the quality of Sowerby’s writing that it creates a vivid picture in the mind’s eye of the various characters and their foibles which sets up a riveting second half. The children are battered into submission, their self-esteem in tatters. All are forced to leave. Their father appears not to worry about what their future holds. Maybe this will be the making of them. Allam’s understated gruff portrayal quashes melodrama and Mitchell also impresses as a passionate Janet while Vasan’s Mary provides one of the play’s best scenes when she dares to confront the patriarch.
Lizzie Clachan’s set is rigid and suffocating, you can almost smell the sweat and smoke of early twentieth century England and as the play ends, she provides a simple piece of theatrical magic, evoking the essence of this very fine play. A couple of things to note. Enter the auditorium early to enjoy atmospheric sounds and visuals and make sure you listen well as the authentic accents require undivided aural attention.
In Covent Garden an equally compelling production is taking place of Puccini’s Tosca (Royal Opera House). Set in Rome at the beginning of the nineteenth century this eighth revival of Jonathan Kent’s work is like the bringing to life of a Caravaggio painting. Different period, different characters but the same contrasts of light and shade, the darkness provided by local chief of police Baron Scarpia, a man who can charm birds out of trees while simultaneously plotting nefarious deeds. Marco Vratogna sings the role magnificently though the overall depiction lacks the deviousness required to make him truly despicable.
Kristine Opolais lacks that little bit of magic to make her a memorable Tosca but she rises to the challenge with her spotlight aria while Vittorio Grigòlo’s booming Cavaradossi has intensity and volume to wake the dead. The chorus too are excellent and as you would expect from this world-renowned orchestra they play with great skill and fluidity. It is the first time I have seen conductor Alexander Joel but, on this showing, I can see why maestro Pappano (music director) chose him for this piece.
Meanwhile Susanna Efthyvoulou is in raptures…
As we neared the end of the English National Ballet’s production of Cinderella (Royal Albert Hall) I began to run out of plaudits such was its brilliance. It’s fair to say we had a ball at the hall…the perfect world class venue for this spectacular production. Great credit must go to Daniel Brodie for his projection design that created a colourful, imaginative array of backgrounds and floors throughout. The beautifully designed costumes and head-dresses of the 90 dancers also enhanced the unfolding story.
The dancing was exceptional as the troupe were given an opportunity to express themselves fully on the arena floor. Cinderella was wholly believable as were her stepsisters but special mention goes to the dramatic stepmother danced by Tamara Rojo who told such a convincing story of someone utterly desperate to promote both herself and her two ‘ugly’ daughters. The whole experience was a feast for the eyes accompanied by the wonderful music of Prokofiev. When it returns (it shall) make sure you also go to the ball!
Rutherford and Son – 020 7452 3000
Cinderella – www.ballet.org.uk
Tosca (last performance tonight) – 020 7304 4000