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The Winslow Boy (Susan Elkin reviews)

Birmingham Repertory Company. Marlowe Theatre and touring

It’s encouraging to see a revival of Terence Rattigan’s fine 1946 play which really allows this modern classic to shine. Rattigan was an exceptionally good dialogue writer and his plays – The Winslow Boy in particular – respond well to the sort of direction and acting you see here from Rachel Kavanaugh and her strong cast of eleven.

Based on the real life Georgie Archer-Shee case, The Winslow Boytells the story of an alleged theft of a postal order by a boy at a naval boarding school run by the Admiralty. Convinced of his son’s innocence, his father brings the rest of the family to near ruin in trying to prove it through the courts.

As the boy’s father, Arthur Winslow, Aden Gillett is plausible, reasonable, determined and affectionate. He is also gradually succumbing to arthritis and other illnesses which worsen during the two year trajectory of the play. Gillett’s performance is both convincing and moving. He is well matched by Tessa Peake-Jones who plays his wife as a motherly, homely sort – in an Edwardian middle class way – until, at last, she loses some of her poise and confronts her husband about his recalcitrant stubbornness and that’s impressive to watch too.

There is also some splendid work from Dorothea Myer-Bennett as their daughter Catherine, a sardonic supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. Myer-Bennett gives us an intelligent character who is variously amused, socially conventional, and desperately upset and it’s pretty compelling. So is Timothy Watson as Sir Robert Morton the very expensive lawyer who, intially seems terrifying and very unpleasant but who turns out to be much more human and humane that anyone thought. It’s a gift of a part and Watson makes a fine job of it especially in the last scene when he and Catherine discover they have a rapport.

Also enjoyable are Soo Drouet as the well meaning but untrained and over familiar Violet, the family servant and an entertaining cameo from Sarah Lambie as a patronising but penetrating journalist.

And it all takes place on Michael Taylor’s delightful set – the sitting room of the Winslows’ house – complete with a huge mahogany bureau, dark wood chairs and lots of pictures on the walls, some of which are taken down by stage crew as the Winslows begin to feel the pinch. Taylor also designed the gorgeous Edwardian costumes including attractive dresses for the women. Peake-Jones, in particular wears several pretty, fitted outfits with sweeping long skirts.

This production is high-quality theatre. What a pity, therefore, to see the matinee I was at so sparsely attended. The Marlowe was less than half full. I hope other performances there and elsewhere during the tour have attracted the numbers this show deserves.

First published by Sardines:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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