Manchester Theatre Awards

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The Winslow Boy

Terence Rattigan
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
The Lowry
09 April 2018 to 14 April 2018

Of all the Rattigan plays that get periodically revived it’s The Winslow Boy that is revived most frequently and invariably makes the most impact. The reason is pretty obvious – it’s such a darn good yarn, based on real events, that despite its Edwardian setting still chimes with modern outlooks on celebrity and scandal. It’s well constructed, has characters you care about and offers plum parts for the cast. For any director worth his or her salt it ought to be a piece of cake.

The current revival is a handsomely-mounted production from Birmingham Rep, featuring Timothy Watson – the infamous, villainous, despicable Rob Titchner of The Archers’ most edge-of-seat recent storyline – as the QC charged with defending young naval cadet Ronnie Winslow (Misha Butler, making an impressive stage debut) when he is accused of stealing a five shilling postal order.

The fight to clear 14-year-old Ronnie’s name means his family has to make sacrifice after sacrifice, with Ronnie's father leading the charge, passionately believing in his son’s innocence and consequently battling against injustice, single-mindedly pressing onwards while losing wealth and health in the process.

Aden Gillett, as the father gives a quietly compelling performance, though I did find his increasing physical infirmity just a little exaggerated.

Watson, ramrod stiff back as well as upper lip and manner, has the best scene of them all, as he agrees to take on the case in what is still one of the very best first act closers.

Tessa Peake-Jones (Raquel in Only Fools and Horses) makes it powerfully clear that her only real concern is her son, while Dorothea Myer-Bennett offers a detailed performance as Ronnie’s sister, a pioneering suffragette of wit and intelligence.

There’s a large, very large, drawing room set of turquoise walls that occasionally become translucent to expose a world outside of the intense claustrophobia of the family drama.

I’ve seen it loads of time before and what struck me particularly this time was that Rattigan managed to write a court room drama that never actually takes place in a court room, quite a clever trick until you start to notice it, which I did this time, at which point it seems a bit of a cheat.  

So, director Rachel Kavanaugh, didn’t distract me enough from the shortcomings but otherwise does find the ingredients she has been provided with easy enough to bake into a pretty satisfactory whole.

Reviewer: Alan Hulme

Comments

Comment by Robert Beale

My feeling about the play's impact this time is similar, though that's not because of any shortcomings of the text - that's surely a superbly crafted piece and one that almost directs itself (being a court room drama without a court room is its genius). The characterizations were all highly professional but didn't always come across as real people (Timothy Watson and Dorothea Myer-Bennett had the best opportunities, however, and took many of them).