The Winslow Boy

28 Jan

Terence Rattigan is often considered a master craftsman of the ‘well made play’. As a natural result, his work goes in and out of fashion.

Adding to this potential for supposed redundancy is the fact The Winslow Boy is set in the years before the First World War.

But the play is a historical drama. It was written a quarter of a century after the time it is set. If elements of the plot and aspects of the characters seem quaint they’re deliberately so. It’s as though Rattigan is looking back at a past era with a gentle nostalgia.

And it’s an oddly gentle play.

Or should I just say it’s odd? Not the overly simple ‘well made play’ the fashionable might dismiss it as.

What’s it about?

Ronnie Winslow’s reputation has been besmirched and must be cleared. It’s a fight for justice.

But the play’s not a court room drama. Set entirely in the Winslow’s sitting room, we’re not seriously expected to follow the legal machinations.

Plenty of people tell the Winslow’s not to bother, so perhaps it’s an exploration of an obsession with justice and its cost.

But the stakes are deliberately set low. Ronnie Winslow is a school boy who is accused of stealing a postal note and is expelled. “Let right be done” becomes the catch cry. But the sacrifices needed in order to achieve this ‘right’ are much smaller than might be imagined. Indeed, it’s quite possible to argue that many of the characters are better off because of their sacrifice, and I don’t mean on some nebulous quasi-spiritual level, but rather on a mundane common sense level. And it’s rather telling that little Ronnie is not particularly concerned about the outcome of the case.

So am I criticizing the play?

Perhaps.

But I can’t overstate how engaging it is. Rattigan seems incapable of writing a dull scene.

Photo by Mark Banks

Photo by Mark Banks

And this production, directed by Nanette Frew, is a very enjoyable night of theatre. The cast provide some excellent performances. David Stewart-Hunter as Ronnie’s fixated father delivers an intriguing mix of humour, pigheadedness and pathos. Sonya Kerr as Ronnie’s suffragette sister Catherine is intelligent, witty and humane. It’s a beautiful role and Kerr does it magnificently. Roger Gimblett’s Sir Robert Morton is brilliantly articulate and perfectly pompous. Tom Massey’s Desmond Curry is a wonderful portrait of the likeable loser.

(Considering Catherine’s relationships with these three men is hard to believe Rattigan hadn’t swallowed his copy of Pride and Prejudice whole.)

But back to my discussion of the play.

What’s it about?

About two and a half hours of enjoyment.*

Veronica Kaye

The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan

The Genesian Theatre til 14 Feb

http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/

* Like Rattigan, I’ve done some swallowing and regurgitating with this line.

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