Writer: Terence Rattigan
Director: Rachel Kavanaugh
Reviewer: Simon Topping
A sumptuous Edwardian living room decked out with rich blue walls and plush contrasting furniture, beautifully designed by Michael Taylor, draws the Brighton audience into the theatre. The lights go down and a boy in naval uniform takes the spotlight. This is the start of Birmingham repertory theatre’s excellent adaption of Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy.
The play centres around the true life trial of George Archer-Shee, a fourteen-year-old boy expelled from Osborne Naval College on the Isle of Wight in 1908 for allegedly cashing another cadet’s five shilling postal order. Seeing the injustice and convinced of his son’s innocence, Arche-Shee senior with the help of a prominent barrister and politician of the day, Sir Edward Carson, took on the Admiralty (and therefore the Crown) in a battle of wills that would only conclude two years later and after the case had been debated in parliament. Here Arche-Shee becomesWinslowand Carson changed to Morton. The action is moved closer to the First World War for added poignancy, but all of the case’s essential facts remain the same.
The cast performances are exemplary. Aden Gillett as the increasingly worn down father, Arthur Winslow, impresses with his ease of manner and contrasting pace of dialogue delivery; a difficult skill to achieve, which he makes look simple. There is some great comedic interplay between the characters; Soo Drouet as the hapless and calamitous maid Violetparticularly brings a chuckle with her cheerful, unknowing attitude. As the first half draws to a close Timothy Watson as Morton offers us a master class in buttoned-up upper-crust Englishman acting with his cross-examination of Ronnie Winslow and leaves the audience delighted with a perfectly timed comedic line to close the half.
The second act explores the fallout from the prolonged fight against the Crown as the family battles through personal, health and money troubles to keep up the case. Every member of the family sacrifices in one way or another. Ronnie’s sister, Catherine, seems to be hit hardest. It is in this half that we see the adaption focus more on this Winslow girl rather than the boy. Beautifully played by Dorothea Myer-Bennett, Catherine navigates heartache, the courtroom and injustices for Edwardian women, whilst trying to maintain her optimistic nature; Myer-Bennett displaying these subtle emotions exceptionally well in a captivating performance.
As the play comes to an end, the audience is left to ponder on the struggles of female emancipation to come and the impending weight of war. With wit and genuine emotion in the script and an adroit band of performers in the cast, The Winslow Boy proves a joy to watch.
Runs until 28 April 2018 | Image: Alistair Muir