Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Winslow Boy

Terence Rattigan
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring

Production photo

Fashion swings to extremes and back again and Rattigan's work, which fell out of favour after the gritty realism of John Osborne's 'kitchen sink' dramas, is now firmly back in favour, and no bad thing when this beautifully crafted and wittily written play can be engaging and entertaining audiences once again, with the eminent Timothy West leading the cast as retired banker Arthur Winslow. True he briefly fluffed a couple of lines, but that is easily forgiven when the rest of his performance was a masterclass of confident, polished and perfectly timed discourse getting laughs exactly where he should as the affably sarcastic father of the house.

Based loosely on a real-life case of the time just prior to the Great War, it concerns Winslow's son Ronnie, a young naval cadet accused of stealing a five shilling postal order.

Not surprising that Rattigan's plays were regarded as old-fashioned and unrealistic in the nineteen sixties as this is an unfamiliar world - a world where a thirteen year old boy is regarded as 'a little lamb' and that it was disgraceful to let the poor child travel back home unaccompanied. My first thought on seeing the 'little lamb' was that he was much too tall for the part, making it very awkward to bury his head in the consoling bosoms of mother and family parlour maid, but aside from this young Hugh Wyld performed the role of Ronnie Winslow superbly, from distraught fear and shame that he had been expelled from college to happy confident fifteen year old, and his distress and anguish trying to defend himself while under interrogation was palpable, keeping the audience hanging anxiously on every word - even if they did know the outcome.

The fight for justice spans two years and costs Arthur Winslow his health and his fortune as well as changing the lives of his family, and the inference is 'was it worth the cost?',However It also manages to cover the dwindling fortunes of the aristocracy, the emancipation of women and the remark "the House Commons has too little ventilation and too much hot air" brought a derisive laugh from the audience - nothing much has changed there then!

Rather than a courtroom, the whole of the action takes place in the Winslow's elegant cream-panelled Kensington drawing room (courtesy of Simon Higlett) and some very lovely and relevant costumes are designed by Mark Bouman, with wife Grace (the delightful Diane Fletcher) showing her pleasure in dressing up to appear in court. The appearance of a woman journalist (Rachel Edwards) demonstrates the changing role of women. It's just a pity that she's more interested in the curtains than the political aspect of the case, but more assertive is daughter Catherine (Claire Cox) - a suffragette with two unsuitable suitors.

Director Stephen Unwin has assembled an excellent cast for this superb revival, including Adrian Lukis as Sir Robert Morton, the most expensive attorney in the country, who enters with an air of studied indifference but soon revs up to a theatrical performance of merit as his interrogation of the boy reaches a crescendo, gaining a burst of enthusiastic applause.

There was spontaneous applause too for Sarah Flind as the garrulous over-familiar parlour maid with exactly the right balance between comedy and plausibility, particularly her excited account of the outcome of the court case, and the play concludes with the singing of 'Jerusalem' and the hope that we can build it in 'this green and pleasant land' followed by the thunder of falling bombs!

Touring to Theatre Royal Bath 15th - 20th June, Oxford Playhouse 22nd - 27th June, Malvern Theatres 29th June - 4th July, Milton Keynes Theatre 6th - 11th July, Churchill Theatre Bromley 13th - 18th July, Brighton Theatre Royal 20th - 25th July.

Howard Loxton and John Thaxter reviewed this production at the Rose, Kingston

Reviewer: Sheila Connor