The Winslow Boy - review

Posted on: 02 May 2013 by Agatha Cheng

Lindsay Posner’s production of The Winslow Boy at the Old Vic is a production of which Rattigan himself would be proud, Laurence Green reviews.

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A relentless fight for truth, played out under the media spotlight tests one family to its very limit in Terence Rattigan’s most accomplished play The Winslow Boy (Old Vic Theatre), revived in a masterly new production directed by Lindsay Posner.

Set just before the First World War, the play is based on a true story of a 13-year-old naval cadet who is expelled from his college for the alleged theft of a five shilling postal order and how his father, driven by a passionate belief in justice whatever the cost, wages a two year battle to prove his son’s innocence.

This is a beautifully judged, elegantly staged and superlatively acted production which brings out all the work’s strengths, most notably Rattigan’s dramatic skill and humanity. The action takes place in the genteel surroundings of a middle-class Edwardian living room in Kensington. But more than half a century on, the play’s message about the importance of human rights – the story pits individual conscience against the might of the system – resonate even more powerfully today than in 1945 when Rattigan started writing the play.

Rattigan resists introducing the big courtroom drama we might expect and narrows and intensifies the dramatic focus by concentrating on the strains on the family as news of the legal process reaches them. For me the most memorable scene is when the barrister Sir Robert Morton reduces the poor cadet to tears after a brutal cross examination in his own home and then declares that he has no qualms about taking on the case.

Posner’s stirring production makes the play seem funnier than usual, though none of its poise and poignancy is last. Furthermore we believe in the Winslow as a family and begin to share their plight.

Henry Goodman gives another superb performance and movingly conveys the terrible toll the case inflicts on the boy’s father, a retired bank worker, while Charlie Rowe manages to capture the teenager’s carefree attention-deficiency, going from convincing contained panic to blithely missing his own case verdict. Naomi Frederick excels as the tenacious suffragette daughter who sacrifices her own happiness to the pursuit of justice, and Deborah Findlay makes a strong impression as her mother, a faded beauty with pretentious tastes. There is also a sterling performance from Peter Sullivan as the eminent, cold-hearted barrister (and politician), a man of boundless vanity and cynicism.

In all then a richly rewarding evening in the theatre and a production of which Rattigan himself would be proud.

Run until May 25

Box office: 0844 871 7628

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