Terence Rattigan’s classic play, The Winslow Boy, is welcomed to the Birmingham Rep stage with class, style and precision. The play follows Ronnie Winslow’s (Misha Butler) expulsion from the Royal Navy College for stealing, and how his family come to terms with his trial. Rattigan’s play has been adapted many times for stage, screen and radio, but Kavanaugh’s production seems fresh and relevant, without disregard for the original text. While all characters encounter their own personal toil over the two-year trial, the family continue to fight for right to be done for Ronnie.
The play begins with Ronnie arriving home after his expulsion, alone on stage and lit beautifully, which showcases the exquisite set design by Michael Taylor. A prominent stylistic feature of the play includes the translucent turquoise gauze posing as the back wall of the drawing room, which was used successfully to transport the audience from public to private sphere. Similarly, Taylor’s costume design was in-keeping with the era and set, yet bold in its versatility and simplicity.
The design of this piece reflects my overall impression of the production – a clean and sophisticated nod to a classic with a dynamic and contemporary edge. While the text is neither explicitly dramatic or hilariously comedic, Kavanaugh’s attempt to strike a balance between light entertainment and addressing the text’s political issues pays off. A particularly impressive example of this occurs as Sir Robert Morton, played by Timothy Watson, interrogates Ronnie in his home with the family looking on. While this section could appear lengthy and wordy, the fantastic boldness of Watson’s performance makes each word gripping. It is easy to forget this text was first written over seven decades ago as the cast seem to make the relevance of their words effortless, specifically as Catherine Winslow (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) addresses women’s suffrage. A crude reference to Catherine’s efforts for women’s rights being a waste of time are obviously intended to be taken ironically, and her strong and fearless portrayal tells this story even more successfully.
The developing relationships between each character is what drives this play forward. While every scene of the ninety-minute play is set in the family drawing room, and has the potential to appear stagnant, I found this static nature of the movement quite compelling as our focus as audience members is drawn to the text as opposed to their actions.
This captivating play is therefore testament to the successful storytelling each actor achieves on stage. While perhaps towards the beginning of the show, characters appear slow to develop, once they settled in, it is brilliant to watch the events occur. With moments of pure drama and light comedy, The Winslow Boy is a sleek and successful attempt at a classic, executing the text skilfully with clarity and bravery.