& Son

The story may be over a century old but Rutherford & Son has plenty to offer for current times, as Helen Nugent discovers

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The nation knows them as Cilla Battersby-Brown and Auntie Pam. Now these two Coronation Street stalwarts are appearing in a play by Githa Sowerby, an author described as history’s first significant female playwright.

Rutherford & Son has been hailed as a masterpiece, a devastating attack on the unacceptable face of capitalism. Yet this 101-year-old script is little-known, despite featuring in the National Theatre’s One Hundred Plays of the Century.

And so to Northern Broadsides, a regional company with an international standing and a reputation for attracting the best northern talent to its base at the Viaduct Theatre, Halifax. Under the auspices of founder and artistic director Barrie Rutter, who appears in the title role of John Rutherford, the company has won many awards and a loyal following over the past 21 years.

Northern Broadsides has pulled off a serious coup for its latest production: in addition to a stellar cast, Sir Jonathan Miller is directing after six years away from the British stage. Known to many as co-writer and performer in the legendary satirical review Beyond The Fringe (alongside Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook), Miller has since become one of the world’s leading opera and theatre directors as well as a respected author, lecturer, television producer and presenter.

Kate Anthony (Auntie Pam in Coronation Street, pictured below) admits that the chance to perform in a play helmed by Miller was irresistible. She says: “It’s really exciting to be working with Sir Jonathan Miller. He’s phenomenal. His reputation precedes him but he’s so warm and easy to work with. He’s terribly generous – he lets you find your own way. And the play is magnificent – Githa Sowerby was an extraordinary woman.”

Wendi Peters (Corrie’s Cilla Battersby-Brown), who plays Mrs Henderson, agrees. “This is a fabulous play. And Jonathan Miller is absolutely fascinating. I don’t have a huge part but I chose that on purpose, I wanted just to be there to soak up the atmosphere in rehearsals and watch him work.”

Northern Broadsides is committed to hiring charismatic northern actors who all perform in their natural voices. Anthony, who is originally from Leeds, says it’s a relief not having to worry about the accent. But does she worry about being typecast? “Since Coronation Street, I’ve predominantly done northern work. I’ve been lucky with Auntie Pam because, in latter years, I’ve popped in and out which has allowed me to come out and do things like this play. I’m lucky being able to marry the two together.”

However, Peters concedes that being seen as “that woman” can be difficult. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say it has typecast me a little bit, particularly in the TV world, but not so much in the theatre world. I do think the people can be a bit blinkered. It makes things harder for me.”

Peters is an experienced theatre actor. Most recently, she appeared in White Christmas at The Lowry, Salford. So how does theatre compare with starring in a long-running soap? “If you’re not busy within the [TV show’s] storyline, then it’s not a hard job. But there is nothing harder for an actor than the discipline of eight shows a week in the theatre. White Christmas really took it out of me.”

Despite the gruelling schedule of rehearsals and an upcoming nationwide tour, both Peters and Anthony find time to catch up with Corrie. “I follow Corrie when I can,” says Peters. “Particularly when my ‘family’ is in the storyline.”

Although Rutherford & Son was written at the turn of the 20th century, it shares common themes with Coronation Street. There is a scandalous love affair and a scheming son, a struggling business and a family patriarch. But, amid all the turmoil on the stage, Peters has a plan to lighten the mood.

A former finalist on Celebrity Masterchef, when she’s not acting, Peters is baking. She says: “If I’m in a play on tour, I bake a cake a week, it’s up to the cast and crew what they want. But there will be something special for the first night.”

Rutherford & Son, touring from February to June. For more information visit

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