If the ‘northern powerhouse’ ever becomes a reality rather than just a figment of duplicitous politicians’ imaginations, Barrie Rutter (above) should be its cultural champion. A quarter of a century ago he founded the Halifax-based Northern Broadsides theatre company, specifically to give regional theatre a stronger presence on the national arts scene. Since then he’s directed (and acted in) a stream of memorable productions, from King Lear and The Canterbury Tales to Accidental Death Of An Anarchist and 1984 – all performed by actors with authentic, unmodified northern accents. They’ve appeared not only at theatres across the north (including many times at the Playhouse) but across the rest of Britain and across the world, with tours that have taken them to Brazil, the USA, Europe and India. Now Barrie Rutter is leaving the company, having finally tired of battling the Arts Council over funding. But he’s going out with a bang, directing and treading the boards himself in this uproarious comedy.
For Love Or Money started out as Turcaret, a blistering 18th century French satire by Alain-René Lesage. The play’s attack on the corrupt bankers Louis XIV employed to collect taxes was so savage there were attempts to ban it and it closed after just seven performances. Blake Morrison’s adaptation transfers the setting to 1920s Yorkshire, but the action still centres on a love triangle involving a crooked banker, played with wonderfully bombastic relish by Rutter himself. He’s not alone in his perfidy, as just about everyone’s motivated by ruthless self-interest in the dog-eat-dog world imagined by Morrison. Greed is of course one of the original sins and there is as much of it about today as there ever was. Jokes about bent bankers strike an obvious chord and we have a clear sense of the present-day targets Rutter and Morrison may have in their sights when Rutter’s character Algy Fuller announces proudly, ‘I was trained in London. They taught me everything I know.’ Similarly, the warning in the final scene of a looming financial catastrophe seems more than just a reference to the 1929 crash.
Algy’s an older man who’s fallen for Rose, a beautiful young widow, but she uses his expensive gifts (bought with embezzled money) to bail out a younger suitor, the caddish ne’er do well Arthur. He in turn has a crafty servant, the much put-upon Jack, who’s looking to raise some cash himself and – with some justification, the play is keen to emphasise – is happy to get it by duping his master. There are other characters in the mix as well and it all adds up to a fast-paced, hugely entertaining dissection of human folly and imperfection. Morrison’s quickfire dialogue is enlivened by some colourful Yorkshire dialect (‘as glumpy as a corpse’). The humour’s broad and in places unashamedly dated: when Jack praises the domestic talents of his girlfriend Lisa he describes her as ‘the best scrubber in town’ – a line I’m sure I last heard in a Carry On film.
There are excellent performances all round, not least from the peerless Mr Rutter. I’m not aware of his future plans, but let’s all hope we haven’t seen the last of him at the Playhouse.
**** Tremendous northern comedy – the audience loved it
For Love Or Money continues at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 25 November 2017.