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Oxford Playhouse, Oxford

The Winslow Boy
4.0Reviewer's Rating

The new production of Terence Rattigan’s 1946 hit play THE WINSLOW BOY that is touring the UK is a vivid reminder of just what a good playwright Rattigan was. Sit is also a reminder of an earlier era in which father was the head of the household and made all the decisions. This play about defending the honour of the very much loved son, Ronnie Winslow, played with winning sympathy, charm and understanding by Misha Butler, is still compelling and strongly engaging drama. If you are ever looking for an exemplar of how thought-provoking, moving and completely dramatic this kind of well-made, old fashioned play can be be, this is a very fine example.

The director, Rachel Kavanaugh, has sounded every layer of the story that captivated Rattigan, his play being based on a real case. Observing the levels of sibling rivalry and place in the hierarchy of the family is one of the main themes of the evening. The story of the Winslow boy and whether he was falsely accused of stealing a five shilling postal order or not is a compelling pivot around which the play can develop and also examine the developing motives, minds and characters of the people of the story. It also conveys the real drama of the father’s defence of a son for whom he has to fight the Admiralty and the Crown.

Set just before the First World War, the text plays with the mores of the time, its fears and prejudices, and also with questions of integrity and morality. It also touches on the fight of women to get the vote. As Arthur Winslow and his daughter Catherine, Aden Gillett and Dorothea Myer-Bennett also convey a father-daughter relationship that, in this production, almost takes centre stage. Timothy Watson is finely repressed and yet believably powerful as the excellent, at times enigmatic, Sir Robert Morton, the barrister who takes on the case and fights for justice.

It is impossible if you know any history not to think of this as a kind of British Dreyfus Case. The cast is very strong all round. Soo Drouet creates both memorable comic relief and suggests also a kind of chorus as in a classic Greek drama. Theo Bamber makes a believable and often touching Dickie Winslow. Geff Frances is ultimately moving portraying his unrequited love for Catherine; and Tess Peake-Jones has some fine moments as the mother, Grace Winslow. William Belchambers is also to be commended as the ultimately shallow, socially terrified and conventional-minded John Watherstone. The characters all seem real and believable.

Michael Taylor has designed a superbly evocative period set and costumes, a real recreation of a West End drawing room set of the 1940s. This is not just an excellent reading of the play; it is a real interpretation. And the ending plays especially well. I can imagine a future life for all the characters and suspect that once the war is over and women win the vote, Catherine Winslow will be one of the earliest women to take a seat in parliament. I do have a couple of quibbles but there are so far outweighed by what is good about this evening in the theatre that I simply do not want to voice them. If you want to see a splendid, intelligent, thought-provoking and very well acted rendering of a classic British drama, try to see this production. It may also make you want to see and reassess more of the works of Terence Rattigan.

  • Drama
  • By Terence Rattigan
  • Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh
  • Cast includes: Aden Gillett, Dorothea Myer-Bennett, Timothy Watson, Tessa Peake-Jones, Misha Butler, William Belchambers, Geff Francis
  • Oxford Playhouse, Oxford
  • Until 17 March 2018 and then touring until 19 May 2018

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper came to the UK to study at Oxford and stayed, captivated by the culture and history of the welcoming and tolerant society of Britain. He founded the magazine Opera Now. He was a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting and a member of the team that started Classic FM on which he broadcast shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature.

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