Roger Allam and Anjana Vasan © National Theatre & Johan Persson

Rutherford and Son: reviews

Find out what the critics had to say about Roger Allam’s performance as John Rutherford in Rutherford and Son at the Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre), London…

Allam is all brooding magnificence as the bearded ogre, a cross between a feudal overlord with shades of Lear, a figure out of Dickens and a very modern Faust who has sacrificed his humanity to service the capitalist machine. He could be a growling and roaring stereotype but Allam brings out his chill watchfulness and impatience. Philistine and brutish this man may be, but he picks up on the slightest tell-tale flickers of emotion around him, lashing out at the detected sullenness of Justine Mitchell’s Janet as she pulls his boots off, letting icy pauses creep into casual remarks to show who’s boss. (…) Sowerby allows some sympathy for the devil – it’s either toil or ruin, in his book; Allam delivers an impassioned speech of self-justification.

 The Telegraph, Rutherford and Son, National Theatre, review: never a dull moment, but many a dour one in this splendid revival, 29 May 2019

(Polly Findlay’s new production) still makes a powerful impact thanks, in no small part, to Roger Allam. (About accents) That is emphatically not the case with Allam, who is magnificent as Rutherford. He presents us with a man who rarely shouts or blusters because he exercises power as if by divine right. But, while embodying a capitalist patriarchy, Allam indicates Rutherford’s moral vacancy: when he tells his clerical son, “You might just as well never ha’ been born,” it is with the casual indifference of a man enslaved by the profit motive. Allam also subtly suggests, when he nervously withdraws his hand from his foreman’s shoulder, a man terrified of physical contact.

The Guardian – Rutherford and Son review – Roger Allam is magnificent in Edwardian classic, 29 May 2019

Roger Allam and Anjana Vasan © National Theatre & Johan Persson
Roger Allam and Anjana Vasan © National Theatre & Johan Persson

Allam’s badger-bearded Rutherford is relatively restrained; he dominates, not with his fists, but with his bludgeoning tongue, his emotional rigidity and unwillingness to listen. Allam resists the urge to make a cartoon villain of him; he undercuts this bullying with a quieter undercurrent of fear. He sees the damage he is doing, but cannot help himself; he is incapable of change.

The Stage – Rutherford and Son review at National Theatre, London – ‘a strongly performed revival’, 29 May 2019

The performances are equally carefully calibrated, magnificent in the depth of their understanding. Roger Allam makes Rutherford a man not a monster. He bullies and bustles and damns his children with a word, but he believes that what he is doing is for the good of future generations. He has remarkable stillness, sitting at his desk, or standing by the fireplace with its mean fire, his eyes the only mobile part of him. After his great confrontation with Janet he hugs his accounts to himself, holding for grim life onto the business that he loves in a way he can’t love his sons.

What’s On Stage – Review: Rutherford and Son (National Theatre), 29 May 2019

And then there’s old Rutherford himself: a bearded Allam looks hewn from the rock itself, and while he has his human side, he is also implacably driven, and utterly unsentimental.

Time Out – Atmospheric and powerful revival of Githa Sowerby’s 1912 classic, 29 May 2019

Roger Allam and Joe Armstrong © National Theatre & Johan Persson
Roger Allam and Joe Armstrong © National Theatre & Johan Persson

Yet it is Roger Allam’s northern powerhouse of a central performance that sets its weather. It is Allam’s huge presence but sure touch that makes something so galvanising of a harsh, self-made man with a bone-deep sense he is in the right.

The Times – Review: Rutherford and Son at the Lyttelton, 29 May 2019

Roger Allam is Rutherford, a Tyneside industrialist who’s brutal in the workplace and a bully in the home. It’s a performance of understated intensity, as Allam locates both the scornful bluntness and lingering humanity of a man who’s simultaneously a tyrant and a prisoner, trapped by his single-mindedness.

London Evening Standard – Rutherford and Son review: Transfixing cast in absorbing family saga, 29 May 2019

Findlay’s production provides deeply etched portraits of each character, with the formidable Roger Allam, back at the National for the first time in a decade, in tremendous form as the bewhiskered Rutherford.

London Theatre – Review – Rutherford and Son at the National Theatre, 29 May 2019

It’s a juicy part, and Roger Allam’s Rutherford is a compellingly beguiling monster. He makes a commanding theatrical entrance via the handy red curtain, is quick with a sardonic retort, and has the air of a brilliant but beleaguered headmaster; the entire takedown of son Richard, whose conversion to the priesthood he views as a cowardly retreat into irrelevance, is merciless but almost admirably so.

Crucially, Allam digs into Rutherford’s hubris: by insisting his children have different class aspirations, he has disastrously isolated them from the community and from his own industry savvy; and his lifelong dedication to the “family” business has decimated the actual family. The play’s great tragedy is that Rutherford refuses to countenance he might have acted in error – nor is he capable of changing course.

Broadway World UK – RUTHERFORD AND SON, National Theatre, 29 May 2019

Roger Allam as Rutherford © National Theatre & Johan Persson
Roger Allam as Rutherford © National Theatre & Johan Persson

From 16 May 2019 at Lyttelton at the National Theatre, London, with extended run until 3 August 2019.

book tickets || watch ‘about the play’ || watch ‘who was Githa Sowerby’ || in conversation with Roger Allam || gallery

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