The Winslow Boy

Old Vic Theatre

Performance date: Thursday 23 May 2013

The beautiful Old Vic theatre was the venue for a several month long revival of the Winslow Boy, Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play about a father fighting ceaselessly to clear his son’s name from an accusation of theft and expulsion from the Royal Naval College. The revival finishes this week.

A solid if uninspired production directed by Lindsay Posner, draws out the contemporary relevance of the play in terms of the rights of the individual against arbitrary decisions made by the State, while maintaining the classic drawing room structure. Elements of the play can’t help but reveal its age: the role of Violet the parlour maid was a little jarring in its blatant positioning as comic relief, although the audience did respond well. Likewise, at times having the play’s action confined to the Winslow’s drawing room for the entire show at times felt claustrophobic. At least there was excellent William Morris-esque wallpaper to look at.

Henry Goodman, as the father Arthur Winslow, delivers a touching performance, ranging from terrifying to staunch to despondent. Stand out performances also came from Naomi Frederick as Catherine Winslow, the suffragette daughter and Charlie Rowe, as Ronnie Winslow, the accused young boy.

In my view, Peter Sullivan as crack barrister Sir Robert Morton failed to impress. While his cross-examination of Ronnie was excellent and certainly the dramatic highpoint of the play just before interval, often his off-hand and fast-paced delivery meant that the audience (at least in row N stalls where I was) could not catch all that he said. A further quibble – his accent seemed to slip to more working class tones on occasion, where I would have imagined a Conservative silk of 1912 to be posh all the way (although who am I to tell the English how to talk?)

A satisfying show, but no reason to feel cheated if you have access to the 1999 film version starring Jeremy Northam, Rebecca Pidgeon and Nigel Hawthorne, directed by David Mamet.

 

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