The Winslow Boy

The Week Middle East - - Arts | Drama -

Play­wright: Ter­ence Rat­ti­gan Di­rec­tor: Rachel Ka­vanaugh

Birm­ing­ham Rep The­atre, Cen­te­nary Square, (0121-236 4455) Un­til 3 March; then Bath, Ox­ford and on un­til 19 May (www.uktw.co.uk)

Run­ning time: 2hrs 30mins (in­clud­ing in­ter­val)

It’s hard to imag­ine now that 50 years ago obit­u­ar­ies were be­ing read for the dra­matic out­put of Ter­ence Rat­ti­gan, said Maxwell Cooter on What’s On Stage. Rat­ti­gan’s plays – typ­i­cally set among the stiff-up­per-lipped and well-todo – were hugely pop­u­lar in the 1950s, but a decade on were deemed hor­ri­bly old-fash­ioned. Yet in re­cent decades, his plays have demon­strated “re­mark­able re­silience” and en­joyed a “resur­gence” in pop­u­lar­ity. At Chich­ester alone, the past ten years have seen six Rat­ti­gan re­vivals – the lat­est be­ing this “tri­umphant” Winslow Boy, which has now left its Chich­ester home and is tour­ing the UK un­til May.

The play, a huge com­mer­cial hit in 1946, is set just be­fore the First World War, and tells the story – based on a real case – of Ron­nie Winslow, a 14-year-old cadet who is ex­pelled from naval col­lege for al­legedly steal­ing a five-shilling postal or­der. De­ter­mined to de­fend his fam­ily’s hon­our, the boy’s bank man­ager fa­ther be­gins an almighty le­gal bat­tle to clear his name – a bat­tle that be­comes an ob­ses­sion that threat­ens to ruin the fam­ily. It’s a “gripping yarn”, said Robert Gore-Lang­ton in The Mail on Sun­day – and Rachel Ka­vanaugh’s “in­tel­li­gent” pro­duc­tion “ut­terly ban­ishes any pong of moth­balls”. In­deed, it’s the most “qui­etly thrilling ac­count” of the play I’ve seen.

Aden Gil­lett im­presses as the “ob­du­rate pa­tri­arch”, said Do­minic Cavendish in The Daily Tele­graph – as does Tessa PeakeJones as his faith­ful but doubt­ful wife. And Ti­mothy Wat­son (lately a hate fig­ure to mil­lions as Rob Titch­ener in The Archers) is “amus­ingly up­right” as an ex­pen­sive de­fence lawyer, said Do­minic Maxwell in The Times. But the evening un­doubt­edly be­longs to Dorothea My­erBen­nett, who is ut­terly con­vinc­ing as Cather­ine, the el­dest Winslow child and a spir­ited suf­fragette. Giv­ing her char­ac­ter an “in­ner life to match her out­ward zing”, Myer-Ben­nett’s “lu­mi­nous” act­ing makes the vast set feel in­ti­mate and the play feel as if “it was writ­ten yes­ter­day”.

Myer-Ben­nett and Peake-Jones

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