THE WINSLOW BOY
by Terence Rattigan.
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 21 April 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat
Audio-described 19 April.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 April.
Production reaches the heart of the matter.
One strength of Terence Rattigan’s play, written at the end of World War II but looking back to English middle-class society shortly before World War I, is how what is emotionally and morally right seems practically inadvisable. Arthur Winslow risks his retirement, his daughter’s marriage and elder son’s university place to fight the Establishment over a wrong so minor it would be forgotten quickly if the matter were dropped.
Who would care that a schoolboy stole a 25p postal-order, even at 1912 prices? Young Ronnie himself seems unconcerned, so long as his father believes him, missing the final court judgment because he’s been to see a film.
It’s a very southern play, and David Thacker’s Bolton revival isn’t as easy as some have been with the class and period. But that becomes a kind of strength, revealing the play’s human heart as it examines a financially comfortable, but not affluent household, putting-up with a loyal but untrained parlour-maid because, for all their economies, they can’t bring themselves to dismiss her after all these years. It’s their defining value, along with the insistence on fairness as a principle.
For all her anxieties, Mrs Winslow seems delighted a lady journalist is interested in her curtains. Suzan Sylvester is admirable in both anxiety and moments of goodwill. As for the sacrifices, Iestyn Arwel’s stylishly complacent Dickie is clearly wasting his time at Oxford, and Georgina Strawson’s Catherine is better off without her fiancée.
Between her admirers, Ted Holden’s bland John and Huw Higginson’s defeated Desmond, Catherine’s better devoting herself to the suffrage cause, and in the cockpit the Octagon’s intimate in-the-round space becomes as events reveal characters’ strengths and shortcomings, her final handshake and challenge to star QC Morton (Christopher Villiers slightly effortful in his suavity) that she will join him as an MP is a moment worthy of Thacker’s awareness of the passion and progressive aspects of the play.
Christopher Ravenscroft brings his particular velvet-voiced force to the certain-seeming Winslow and, of the three young actors playing Ronnie in rotation, Conor Shelton certainly, gives an aptly assured sense of age and period.
Ronnie Winslow: Sam Ramsay/Conor Shelton/Josh Taylor.
Dickie Winslow: Iestyn Arwel.
Violet: Flaminia Cinque.
Miss Barnes: Charlie Covell.
Desmond Curry: Huw Higginson.
John Watherstone: Ted Holden.
Arthur Winslow: Christopher Ravenscroft.
Catherine Winslow: Georgina Strawson.
Grace Winslow: Suzan Sylvester.
Sir Robert Morton.: Christopher Villiers.
Director: David Thacker.
Designer: Ruari Murchison.
Lighting: Mick Hughes.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant director: Arden Redgrave.