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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Winslow Boy

Let right be done! — Sir Robert Morton
The Winslow Boy Charlie Rowe as Ronnie Winslow (Photo: Nobby Clark)
Each time I see it, I am impressed by the structure of Terence Rattigan's play about the 13 year old naval cadet, accused of stealing a five shilling postal order, who was the subject of a debate in the House of Commons. I think it appeals because it is about truth and history, about injustice and small people winning their case, after terrible sacrifice, against the forces of the establishment. People on a mission for justice can be obsessive and blind to what everyone else goes through towards that end.

The father Arthur Winslow (Henry Goodman) uses up the family's small fortune, sacrifices his daughter's impending marriage (actually we feel she is better off without her priggish fiancˆ) and sees his own health decline, as well as the family being besieged by the new generation of tabloid reporters.

Lindsay Posner's excellent production uses, as the stage curtain, a facsimile of the first page of the Bill of Rights. This signposts the audience towards the search for justice as the main theme for this production of the play, at Kevin Spacey's Old Vic theatre in Waterloo.

Of course The Winslow Boy is also about loyalty to your family and the most heart rending moments are when the boy is questioned first by his father, and then by the intimidating barrister and MP, Sir Robert Morton (Peter Sullivan), and found innocent by both. Ronnie Winslow (a beautiful performance from Charlie Rowe) is legally in a Catch 22. As a naval cadet, he is judged to be a servant of the crown and cannot take the case to a civil court. Neither is he eligible for a court martial because, as a cadet, he has not yet enlisted.

All scenes in this play take place in the Winslows' elegant drawing room in Kensington which here is furnished in period with dark green velvet bergère chairs and green William Morris wallpaper. The women are clad in wonderful Edwardian period dresses with matching jackets inspired by a photograph of the real family, the Archer-Slees, whose son was accused of stealing.

The performances are all excellent. I really warmed to Charlie Rowe as Ronnie the accused boy, a tall thirteen year old, but obviously an upright and honest child. Nick Hendrick as Dickie, his elder brother, is more rebellious and taking advantage of the social life at Oxford before having to settle down to a job in banking.

Naomi Frederick plays Ronnie's sister Catherine who is tending towards a career in politics and whose campaigning for the women's movement bears on the play. The play starts with a discussion about her dowry and ends on a more modern woman note.

Henry Goodman is solid as the father and Deborah Findlay as the mother caught up in her husband's determination to achieve justice, but who longs for her family to get back to normality. But for me, the star of the play is Peter Sullivan as Sir Robert Morton, the high powered barrister who surprises with his commitment to the Winslow cause and his sparring with Catherine and flirtatious comments about her hat.

Don't miss this excellent play at the Old Vic. For more background go to my review of this play in 2009, go here. On viewing The Winslow Boy I find out something else about the real case which resonates. Edward Carson was the real barrister, the inspiration for Sir Robert, he was the voice of Ulster Unionism and a renowned orator. It was Carson who launched the attack on Oscar Wilde at his trial in 1895 against Lord Queensberry, a fact about him which endears him not to me.

The Old Vic in Waterloo is off the theatre land trail but is easy to get to and besides this excellent production of The Winslow Boy, Kim Cattrall is coming up in Sweet Bird of Youth from June to August, and Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones will play Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing from September to November.

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The Winslow Boy
Written by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Lindsay Posner

Starring: Henry Goodman, Deborah Findlay, Naomi Frederick, Peter Sullivan, Charlie Rowe
With: Wendy Nottingham, Nick Hendrix, Richard Teverson, Jay Villiers, Sia Berkley, Samuel Clayton, Stephen Joseph
Designed by Peter McKintosh
Music: Michael Bruce
Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell
Sound Designer: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7628
Booking to 25th May 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 21st March 2013 performance at the Old Vic, Waterloo Road, London SE1 8NB(Rail/Tube: Waterloo)

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