The Winslow Boy @ Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames

cast list
Timothy West, Claire Cox, Rachel Edwards, Diane Fletcher, Sarah Flind, Thomas Howes, Tom Jude, Adrian Lukis, Roger May, John Sackville, Hugh Wyld

directed by
Stephen Unwin
It is testament to the power of Terence Rattigans play that, while written in 1946, it is still able to draw cheers and whoops of approval for its depiction of one familys battle against the establishment.

More than once during the production the audience spontaneously erupted with applause.

Based on a real life legal case, the play concerns thirteen year old cadet Ronnie Winslow, who is expelled from military college for the theft of a five shilling postal order.

His father, believing in his sons innocence and moreover that the boy has not received a fair hearing, will not let the matter lie.
He embarks on a case that will last several years and becomes the source of much attention from the press and the public with some admiring Winslows perseverance and others perplexed by his unwillingness to drop what they see as a trivial matter, especially given what is brewing in Europe.

Stephen Unwins production is solid in many senses. It is stately and unhurried, and yet it captures the vital heat and heart of a play that still proves very resonant. The struggle of one man against a system that refuses to hear him, the need to do right and to hold on to ones principles even if it means personal sacrifice: these remain potent issues.

Set in the years leading up to the First World War, the play has a familiar English drawing room feel. There is a sense of events taking place during a brighter, better time that exists no longer, and this is echoed in the light, airy set but it is also an utterly compelling piece of theatre.

The entire cast is excellent. Timothy West has an appealing dry wit as the Winslow patriarch. His love for his family remains palpable even if his decision to see the case through to the end, to not back down, costs him both financially and physically – the affair eventually takes its toll on his health and we see him deteriorate as time passes.

Claire Cox plays his politically aware, independent-spirited daughter, Catherine, who works for the suffragist movement and is willing to jeopardize her engagement for the sake of the case. Coxs performance is nuanced and elegant, capturing what it was to be a woman with a strong mind in a time where such qualities werent always valued; there is power and poignancy to her, defiance mixed with resignation. (Her portrayal is so rounded and layered that it makes Rattigan’s rather sexist caricature of a lady journalist, more interested in the fabric of the Winslow curtains than the meat of their family’s story, seem even more jarring and out of place).

While the whole ensemble is strong, Adrian Lukis is particularly memorable as eminent barrister Sir Robert Morton. His turn is undeniably showy; it is a big performance, but then he is playing a big character: vain, arrogant, very aware of his own abilities, yet chilly and impenetrable, a cold fish as Catherine calls him. Lukis, clad in fur-collared coat and with his hair immaculately parted, captures the theatrical nature of the character whilst also keeping hold of something human within him. His aggressive questioning of the boy rapid, unrelenting is one of the highlights of an accomplished production of a play that still feels pertinent and intellectually exciting.

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