Review: Rutherford and Son, National Theatre

A superb cast including Roger Allam elevates a fine production of Rutherford and Son at the National Theatre

“There’s not a scrap of love in the whole house”

It’s grim up north. I can say this as an absent son of t’other side of the Watford Gap. But in Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son,  it really is tough-going. Roger Allam’s mightily bearded Rutherford is a ferociously brutal industrialist from the north-east of England who is fierce at home as in the glassworks he runs but down a generation, there’s a growing tendency towards not putting up with such levels of grimness. 

One of his sons bogged off to London and has come back with a working class wife and child, the other wants to find God in Blackpool and his daughter has pretty much been the downtrodden whipping boy for 30-odd years. But it is the beginning of the twentieth century and change is afoot – political and personal, societal and sexual and writ large in the generational struggle here, it can be powerfully affecting. Continue reading “Review: Rutherford and Son, National Theatre”

Review: The Secret Garden, The Barn Theatre Cirencester

A lively and emotional actor-musician production of The Secret Garden marks a fantastic debut for the brand new Barn Theatre in the Cotswolds

“I heard someone crying…
Maybe it was me”

After three years renovation and development work, the Barn Theatre in Cirencester opens its doors with a fresh and spirited actor-musician take on The Secret Garden. A passion project of artistic director Iwan Lewis (who once appeared in a youth production of the musical in the town), the 1991 Tony-winning musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s novel (book and lyrics by Marsha Noman, music by Lucy Simon) has been curiously under-served in terms of major revivals (I saw a fringe version back in 2013) and so proves a canny choice for a new venue seeking to attract an audience. 

It is clear to see that time and thought, and resources, has been invested into the Barn to make it to help it succeed. So Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner’s lighting design, with all its delightful hidden surprises, benefits from a properly swanky lighting rig that would be the envy of pretty much any off-West-End theatre; so too PJ McEvoy’s projections looking highly professional as they move us around Misselthwaite, from dusty, disused ballrooms to briar-filled nooks.

But for all the technical strength, this Secret Garden blooms because of the creative work that has been ploughed into it. The physical aspects of McEvoy’s design have a deliberately rustic feel, suiting time and place well, reflected in the nature of Elliot Ditton’s puppets. The evocation of an inquisitive robin is gorgeously done but it is the way in which Simon’s score has been thoroughly reinvented that reinforces how this production, and the venture at large, is about about mimicking the Great White Way than creating a new Cotswolds Way. Continue reading “Review: The Secret Garden, The Barn Theatre Cirencester”

Review: Adding Machine – A Musical, Finborough

“Harmony, not discord”

There’s something rather appropriate about the UK premiere of Adding Machine: A Musical opening in the same week as a new production of Floyd Collins, as it was casting director Josh Seymour who helped with the latter at the Southwark Playhouse four years ago and has now turned his own directorial attentions to the former. And you can see he has a type – 1920s Americana filtered through an Expressionist lens and the kind of Modernist score that revels in being called an “anti-musical”, pushing the boundaries of conventional musical theatre as it does.

Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt’s adaptation of the Elmer Rice play The Adding Machine maintains much of the original story – after 25 years of constant if undistinguished service, book-keeper Mr Zero finds his role is to be replaced by an adding machine. And as we’re in the world of the anti-musical, he reacts by killing his boss, is hanged, and goes off to the Elysian Fields where he finds that heaven may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, especially when you’re a miserable murderer. Cue jazz hands! Continue reading “Review: Adding Machine – A Musical, Finborough”