The Winslow Boy (REVIEW): Terence Rattigan's Tale Of Middle Class Injustice Revived At The Old Vic

Nobby Clark

Have you ever followed the Twitter hashtag #MiddleClassProblems?

You'll find an array of tongue-in-cheek frustrations afflicting those who actually have life pretty easy: accidentally squirting lychee juice over a MacBook, the struggle of fitting extra thick M&S bread into a toaster, arriving at the gym without an iPod.

An #UpperMiddleClassProblem from the early 20th century can be seen on stage at The Old Vic in The Winslow Boy, directed by Lindsay Posner - little 13-year-old Ronnie Winslow is given the boot from his elite naval college after being accused of stealing a five shilling postal cheque.

Only the rich, powerful and stubborn would be able to take the inconvenient injustice of 'innocent' Ronnie's punishment to dizzying heights: through the ranks of Admiralty, across the pages of national newspapers, echoing in the House of Commons and eventually brought before our Courts of Justice. The Winslow Boy follows this exact route, all played out in the cosy confines of an Edwardian drawing room.

A tale that becomes more intriguing in light of the fact that it is based on a real life event: the Archer-Shee case of 1910 - the 'real' Winslow boy.

Charlie Rowe (Ronnie Winslow) and Henry Goodman (Arthur Winslow)

At first glance, Terence Rattigan's play is a battle between the upper-middle classes and upper classes, played out in the soporific dullness of comfortable living. But Rattigan intended to encapsulate wider issues: the basic human right of a fair trial, equality and the sacredness of our Magna Carta.

Does the playwright succeed in painting a portrait of mankind's sense of justice within the microcosm of a family scandal?

To even question Rattigan's achievements feels like a faux pas in the arts; despite falling in and out of fashion with critics over the decades, Rattigan is a firm favourite, as this high profile staging of the play at The Old Vic proves.

Rattigan does give us food for thought on the wider issues of injustice, albeit in the calmest and most placid manner possible, like a rather clumsy and polite footnote tacked on the end of scenes. It's hard to imagine Rattigan writing The Winslow Boy in the early 60s; a brash decade of free love and experimentation in an evolving society.

The play's exposition and middle class chatter is in constant danger of defusing the tension and drama, with the cast's energy going into maintaining carefree and polished annunciations, injecting animation into whimsical and sometimes rambling dialogue.

Naomi Frederick (Catherine Winslow) and Henry Goodman (Arthur Winslow)

Thanks to a strong cast, director Lindsay Posner pulls out as much pace and drama as possible from a placidly calm play. Henry Goodman maintains the earnest fatherly love and conviction of Arthur Winslow defending his young son and Sia Berkeley brings much needed liveliness as a shallow journalist. Peter Sullivan gives the stand out performance of the show, waking up the audience as Sir Robert Morton, the deeply repressed and ruthless lawyer.

Peter Sullivan (Sir Robert Morton) and Charlie Rowe (Ronnie Winslow)

Headlines in the arts declare 16-year-old Charlie Rowe as the The Old Vic's youngest ever lead role playing the part of accused Ronnie Winslow. A bright future ahead of him, Rowe shines with engaging nervous innocence on stage, but as a leading man he deserves a meatier part. Ronnie Winslow has few lines - a character that quickly becomes forgotten in the hysteria of the court case.

The Winslow Boy will appeal to fans of Terence Rattigan and those who love to chew over a good #UpperMiddleClassProblem.

The Winslow Boy is at The Old Vic, London, 8 Mar 2013 - 25 May 2013.

The Winslow Boy, The Old Vic

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