Interview: Sam Troughton Talks RUTHERFORD AND SON

By: Jun. 01, 2019
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Interview: Sam Troughton Talks RUTHERFORD AND SON
Sam Troughton in
Rutherford and Son

The National Theatre's latest production is a revival of Githa Sowerby's Rutherford and Son, providing a piercing look at family dynamics.

It also marks the coming together of a different family of sorts. Director Polly Findlay reunites with actors Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton, the trio having previously worked together on the National's acclaimed two-hander Beginning.

Speaking during tech week, Sam discusses reuniting with the two, as well as his impressions of his character John and this "haunted house of a play".

What is your earliest memory of theatre?

I went to see Peter Pan at the Barbican in about 1983 and we got to go onto the set afterwards, so we kind of got to go to Neverland! That was super exciting, being six or seven.

And I was always around theatre growing up, with my dad at the RSC. Which of course later was amazing, getting to perform where he had.

I remember the production of Romeo and Juliet you were in there, which was my favourite staging of it.

Thank you. That was such a special show.

I loved that play when I was a teenager. Mercutio was the first part I ever played, but I never thought I'd play Romeo, particularly at the time I did. Mariah Gale, who played Juliet, and I had both just left our twenties, and in a funny way it kind of freed us up to play them as teenagers.

Speaking of experience, another theatrical institution you're more than experienced in is the National Theatre.

You know, thinking about first experiences, my first one here was probably on stage rather than in the audience. It was Tartuffe back in 2001 in the Lyttelton, directed by Lindsay Posner. (My first job at the RSC was actually with Lindsay and then he gave me the opportunity at the National as well.)

In my time here, I've been lucky enough to perform on each of the stages and each play has been completely different. Beginning the other year completed the set. Now I'm back to where it all started with Tartuffe in the Lyttelton for Rutherford and Son.

So how familiar were you with Rutherford and Son?

Not at all. I'd not read any of Githa Sowerby's work before, which makes it really exciting to approach, to be coming at this brilliant play with no preconceptions.

In January, Polly [Findlay] asked if I would be interested in it. And then I learned Justine [Mitchell] would be in it as well, which was amazing - the thought of getting to reunite with the team we'd worked so closely with on Beginning.

I felt that when I first read it, it was like a haunted house of a play. Ghosts in the middle of the night. Obviously it was a shocking play at the time, not least being written by a woman in 1912. It really packs a punch, and I think it still wields a lot of that power today. It's a masterpiece.

Interview: Sam Troughton Talks RUTHERFORD AND SON
Justine Mitchell and Barbara Martin
in Rutherford and Son

Can you set up the world of the play, for those who might be unfamiliar?

So at the beginning of the play, we're in the house of the Rutherfords. Across the moor is the glassworks that Rutherford owns and his grandfather started.

Rutherford has three children. Janet, the eldest, has been brought up within the prison of the house. For all intents and purposes, she's sort of seen as head servant rather than eldest child.

Then in the middle, there's John, who I play. He was sent by his father to be educated at Harrow, but only for a year. There's this description of him in a stage direction that I love: "He's the type that has been made a gentleman of and stopped halfway in the process". That was a really intriguing starting point for me approaching the role.

Then the youngest son is Dick, who has turned to the church, and Aunt Ann, who lives there as well. And now John has returned from London with his wife Mary and their four-month-old son.

There's clearly been previous clashes with my character and his father, but he's come back, having been unable to support his family down South. And while he's been back, with the help of his father's loyal factory employee Martin, he's convinced he has invented a way of making glass that's going to save the struggling family business.

And from there, the play goes on its destructive path as all Rutherford's children rebel against him.

What drew you to the character?

I liked that it wasn't what you'd expect from that type of character. If you had this role in another play or film, this son of an industrialist in the North who's been to London might return with his head full of ideas or new politics. But John comes back and looks to "out-capitalist" his dad, which is really interesting.

There's a line in the play that Mary says: "There's not a scrap of love in this house". And I think actually, there's loads. It's just curdled all over the floor and no one knows where to put it or what to do with it.

It's a play that's got a bit of a scream about it, like Tennessee Williams. It's rather Chekhovian as well; there are almost absurd moments in it. I've got a few of those myself, so it will be interesting to see how they play.

Interview: Sam Troughton Talks RUTHERFORD AND SON
Roger Allam and Anjana Vasan
in Rutherford and Son

What's it like to reunite with Polly and Justine?

Really great. I had such a fantastic time working with them both on Beginning.

It's very open, working with Polly in her rehearsal room. She really allows you to throw paint at the walls and to explore and play as many different things as you can and see what is revealed.

And to work with Justine as well, Beginning was such a special project, such a completely different play. It's great to play something different like this with her, Justine and me as brother and sister. We're just tearing into each other!

You're now in tech week. What's it like to get in the space?

It's lovely to get in the Lyttelton and get a feel for the space again.

We're sort of calibrating stuff at the moment. In rehearsals, we were concentrating on the pressure of the four walls of the room, it's very insular and intense in that household.

This is a play where a lot of destruction is wrought just in one living room. And now of course our fourth wall is replaced with the audience, and the set is very much pushed forward into the auditorium, which is great because the closer you are to it, the better.

Rutherford and Son at the National Theatre until 3 August

Photo credit: Johann Persson


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