The Winslow Boy
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