Northern Broadsides has been an integral part of the Liverpool theatre season for almost two decades – and for many, Broadsides IS Barrie Rutter.
But although the Halifax-based company is due to return to the Playhouse in the spring, when it presents its new version of Dickens’ Hard Times, there will be a Rutter-shaped hole at the heart of the action.
Next week in fact will be the final time theatregoers will have the chance to see the actor/manager on stage with Broadsides, because after the end of its current tour of For Love or Money (a savage comedy about greed), the 70-year-old is bidding farewell to the company he founded quarter of a century ago.
Earlier this year he resigned in protest at the lack of an increase in its National Portfolio funding from the Arts Council - which makes the title of the current play somewhat apt.
“The Arts Council’s decision was late June and my decision to resign followed it,” he confirms.
“I did give them a year’s build up to this. I said: ‘this is what we need and after 25 years I’m sure we can be trusted’. Part of my request was to pay the actors and the crew more.
“But I’m not retiring. I’m looking for work after March!”
Jos Vantyler as Arthur in For Love or Money. Photo by Nobby Clark
He’s very much at the centre of the action however in this new adaptation of Alain-Rene Lesage’s early 18th century satire Turcaret, originally set late in the reign of 'Sun King' Louis XIV but now reimagined and reworked by regular Broadsides collaborator Blake Morrison.
The action is transposed to a small town in Yorkshire just before the 1929 Wall Street Crash, where a beautiful widow is being wooed by two suitors – a rich older admirer (Rutter), who showers her with gifts, and a handsome but feckless younger lover (Jos Vantyler) who makes good use of them.
Of course, it’s not as simple as that. You can add a drunkard, a vamp, a bailiff, a second-hand clothes dealer and two upwardly mobile servants in to the fast and furious mix.
Rutter explains: “I’d asked Blake to have a look at this a few years ago on the recommendation of someone, and he thought there’s no way in to it really. Because what we don’t have in this country, and have never had, are things called tax farmers, where a top civil servant on the fiscal side goes in to a big area and is responsible for collecting taxes. And, of course, it leads to corruption.
“So, 18 months ago when I asked him to have another look at it, I said you don’t have to follow the French. It’s 300-years-old, so make a new play of it.
Sarah-Jane Potts as Rose in For Love or Money. Photo by Nobby Clark
“There’s a 10-year widow, and some money around before a crash, so that’s why Blake jumped on 1928-29 period.
“It’s about greed and about money. And eventually it’s about love. And the sorry tragi-comic way it gets there. Like all comedies you spend the first act setting it up and the second reaping the benefits a lot.”
War widow Rose has fallen on hard times. And next for the company is, as I mentioned earlier, Hard Times itself, which will be directed by long-time Broadsides actor and director, Wirral’s Conrad Nelson, who is taking on the Rutter mantle until a permanent chief executive is appointed.
And For Love or Money?
“It’s a fun evening,” says Rutter. “And it’s timely. Although it’s set in 1929 it’s about greed and money and the stuff of human folly.”
For Love or Money is at the Liverpool Playhouse from November 21-25. Tickets from the website HERE