Gareth Thomas in Rutherford

Reviewed by Dee Adcock of the Salisbury Journal

Fire and ice

Frost glitters outside the Rutherford home, lamplight spills within but this is no cosy haven against the elements. This is the Guvnor's domain and his rule freezes out family love and affection. They row and worry, wound and are wounded. It's been like that for years - but now this Edwardian family is heading for the mother and father of a bust-up. Fire and ice indeed in this explosive meeting of characters, all strong though none so domineering as John Rutherford senior.

Gareth Thomas thunders into the role with all the force of a brutal father who bullies everyone to impose his will at home and in the glass-making business he has devoted his life to. But he also deepens the character, suggesting nobler qualities within twisted years of pushing himself harder than anyone else. It is an impressive performance as he walks the fine line between monstrous behaviour and being a monster. This man of power, all right, a real alpha male snarling at his sons and foreman to keep them in place and commanding obedience from his women. But even the strongest oak can fall and winds of change are whipping through the household. Guile, betrayal if necessary, and determination - from Rutherford and others - play their part.

Nearly 100 years have passed since this play was first staged, yet this production brings it fresh and vital into the 21st century. This family's fears and dreams are ours. Pity is stirred for poor Janet (Ruth Mitchell), drying up in her miserable round of dutiful chores. John junior grows more unpleasant with every outburst and we glimpse a bullying father within the selfish son.

The cast includes the excellent Katherine Barker as hectoring Aunt Ann, echoing though not matching her brother's bullying ways. The north east setting stretches the cast's talent for the accent, but their story is universal.

Writer Githa Sowerby's sideswipes at the Church and the plight of women hit a nerve today. Her play tells a compelling story, made gripping and bleakly humorous by director Joanna Read. The production's design is a haunting mix of sharp, icy beauty and no place like home. There is no heart in this house, just the ticking clock wearing away the years.

Dee Adcock

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