Just about managing not to look too smart for a Yorkshireman with his neat, white whiskers, light tie and jacket, dark waistcoat and on-off specs dangling on a cord, Mr Northern Broadsides himself, actor-director Barrie Rutter, entertained at Doncaster CAST.It was Rutter’s ‘big gob’ that originally had teachers push him into drama, an asset that still serves him well . Shuttling between the crude and earthy and the lofty and elevated, in poetry, prose, limerick, anecdote and chat, we travelled from his tough childhood in ’ull, through his days at the RSC and National Theatres to New York’s Waldorf Astoria, as the animated, articulate atheist poured out his fiery passion, sprinkling predominant laughter with sadder, poignant moments and providing plenty of food for thought.
Via Mike Harding’s graphic poem Bring On the Rosy-cheeked Girls, he bid us sup life by the gallon and be always merry, while in Baudelaire’s Credo, he urged we be always drunken – not necessarily with drink, but with life’s rich offerings, be it wind, waves, stars, birds, creatures, poetry or even virtue itself.
Rutter’s own intoxicating recipe for inspiration draws on a wealth of sources and topics that include education, war and love. Swiftly we leapt from John Cleese and the aspiring Axis of Just As Evil onto Auden’s Night Train, onto Marvell’s Coy Mistress, onto McGonagall’s disastrous Tay Bridge, taking onboard, amongst others, Churchill, Bernard Levin, George Melly, a Geordie Pharaoh, Coleridge, Yeats and Charles Laughton’s naughty onstage pranks.
Rutter’s friends and their works ride high in his praises – Blake Morrison, Alan Plater’s Hull disaster poem, Adrian Mitchell’s euphemistic Puppy Called Puberty along with another of Mitchell’s effing poems, and Maurice Rutherford’s poem telling of the “comforts” of Bridlington – these being those Barnsley folk who have “come for t’ day”. Forty per cent of Ted Hughes’output was for children so some of these were read, while one of the most stunningly powerful and poignant lines, taken from one of Tony Harrison’s poems, appears on the headstone of Rutter’s baby Harry, lost to cot death: every baby is worth gold, frankincense and myrrh.
But it’s Shakespeare, of course, who, as Rutter puts it, has always paid his mortgage. It’s over two decades now since Rutter rescued the Bard from the prissy, plummy-voiced confines of his ivory tower down south and turned him into an unpretentious northerner, while more recently (2009), he helped transform comedian Lennie Henry into a powerfully moving Othello.
There’s more exciting Shakespeare in the offing, too. Rutter’s already slimming down to have his second go at King Lear, this time directed by Jonathan Miller, following the pair’s recent huge success with Rutherford and Son.
Currently, Rutter is directing rehearsals for next month’s August Bank Holiday Lark, a brand new play by Deborah McAndrew for The Great War’s centenary, the title taken from Larkin’s poem about 1914, MCMXIV, performed by Northern Broadsides in partnership with The New Vic.
So he’s not retiring that big, defiant gob just yet, then.
Eileen Caiger Gray