As you’ll know by now, I’m a huge fan of The Lowry, Manchester, and visit regularly – at least once a month- and most times, I choose to discuss the shows I’ve seen in Afternoon and Coffeespoons (my monthly roundup post). However, following Monday’s performance of The Winslow Boy, I felt this show deserved a blog post of its own.
Darting across the city centre from work to The Lowry, Manchester, I tried to envisage what I imagined the show to be about and how it would be presented. So much so, I was still deliberating when I met my plus one for pre-theatre dinner at Pier Eight. We spoke about what we already knew about Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play and came to the conclusion it’d be a rather austere, sombre affair. Oh, how wrong we were….
The Winslow Boy at The Lowry, Manchester
“Having been expelled from the Royal Navy College for stealing a five-shilling postal order, young cadet Ronnie Winslow’s entire family are pulled apart by the repercussions of this charge. Set against the values of 1910 Edwardian London, the Winslow Family fight to clear his name or face social ostracism as the case becomes a national scandal.”
Direct from Chichester Festival Theatre and Birmingham Repertory Theatre, The Winslow Boy is based on a real-life event involving George Archer-Shee in the Edwardian era.
The Winslow Boy Cast
As all of the play’s action takes place in the stage set of the Winslow family’s drawing room, small techniques such as the adaptation of lighting, or rearrangement of set props help to add interest to the story. However, the cast bear the greatest responsibility of bringing the story alive and because of this, it feels fair to remark on this first.
The story centres around the upper-class Winslow family, headed by Tessa Peake-Jones (of Only Fools and Horses fame) as she cosies up to Aden Gillett (House of Eliott), as wife to Arthur Winslow. A surprising pairing but together they bring a delicate humour to the serious subject of the play as life begins to unravel for the family and we see what each family member must sacrifice in the name of justice.
The show’s protagonist, 14 year-old Ronnie Winslow, is played by Misha Butler who makes his stage debut as the rather wet-behind-the-ears, almost molly-coddled naval cadet. Convincing in his role, he gives the expected performance of an innocent schoolboy but he is undoubtedly over-shadowed by the star of the show, Dorothea Myer-Bennet – Ronnie’s tenacious and spirited sister, Catherine Winslow.
A devoted suffragette, throughout the course of the play it is Catherine who we feel stands to lose the most, starting with her marriage proposal to her betrothed as her family risks becoming a “nationwide laughing stock” in their plight to clear Ronnie’s name. While her flamboyant brother, Dickie, may help to reveal Catherine’s warmer and lighter personality traits – we’re left in no doubt as to where her loyalties lie and she’s certainly the embodiment of a powerful woman.
Of course, no review of The Winslow Boy would be complete without mention of the “cold, wet fish” that is Sir Robert Morton, who we’re introduced to as the most highly sought after barrister in England. Played by Timothy Watson, his villainous character as Rob Titchener in BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’ is impressed on his entrance and through his commanding stage presence. Throughout the play, we’re shown a softer side to Sir Robert and his belief in justice. In fact, we’re lead to believe that there could be a warmer ending until it’s made clear the only banter between Sir Robert Morton and Catherine Winslow would be in court.
Let right be done
Justice is predominantly the key theme running throughout the play, with the words ‘let right be done’ echoed repeatedly, almost becoming a family mantra as the family’s fight to expose the truth against an outdated political system. Rattigan was advised not to write a play, facing criticism that topic would bored, based on Rattigan’s belief and fascination with justice – he wrote it anyway.
The theme of family loyalty is also carefully illustrated through the personal sacrifices each member of the Winslow has to make in the interest of clearing Ronnie’s name. Whether it’s marriage, or a place at Oxford, each member is forced to make a sacrifice. Sacrifices which are not only portrayed by words. The decline of Arthur Winslow’s physical health (from using a walking stick to aid arthritis in the opening scenes to using a wheelchair contraption in the final scenes) is likely the most obvious of all.
The show is surprisingly humorous, even though it is set against the depression leading up to World War I and an outdated justice system. The Winslow Boy is emotive and will have you considering which heart-tugging decision each family member will face next.
Where will their sacrifices leave them, will they be able to hold on and what is really at stake?