The Winslow Boy and I have history. Going back to school, the key scene of this Rattigan play was vaguely familiar to me from the pages of Rhodri Jones’ timeless textbooks. The Winslow Boy accused of theft, expelled from naval cadet school, returned home in disgrace, interrogated mercilessly by the ferocious Sir Robert Morton. All this was familiar to me from school days.
Then I moved to the US and I looked up the play, read it as I also did Rattigan’s French Without Tears. Sitting on that warm balcony in Denton, Texas. When I first learnt that The Winslow Boy was about to be staged at the Rose in Kingston, starring Tim West no less, I knew right away that I was going to have to put this on my priority list. Even if the Rose is a long trek from the city.
The only question that remained was the reviews. Did the critics like it? When Billington gave it 4 stars, my mind was made up. I was going to Kingston, even though my last trip there resulted in an encounter with that epic asshole Richard Bean.
What a triumph it was. What a performance. It started off in cracking fashion, Ronnie come home, hiding out in the garden, getting wet in the rain while his grouchy old father let fly acerbic one-liners in the most casual fashion. Tim West was in great touch, although at times I thought that he might be playing a bit too throwaway, too low-key. But it all added up to a performance of great power. They were all fantastic, the callow Dickie who is taken out of Oxford and finds fulfilment in Reading!, the hapless Curry, once glorious with bat and ball, now a middle-aged solicitor, a total nobody, the mother who suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with grim dignity. Even the child Ronnie, oblivious to the national furore that he has caused.
The two central roles then. Claire Cox played the suffragette daughter Catherine with immense conviction and weary pathos. She gives up on her love for the sake of her principle. And Adrian Lukis plays the eminent barrister Morton. It was a very strange take that he had on his character I thought – a nasal deadpan is the best description, a blank expression combined with dispassionate delivery. And yet, in the triumphant grilling scene that plays out just before the interval, his voice rises along with his outrage and fills the hall. The midpoint curtain fell to rapturous applause. It is the same after the interval – Rattigan’s technique is so finely honed, even without leaving the Winslows’ living room for one second in the four acts, he keeps the pace going at a gallop, the audience breathless and keen in his wake. It’s written as tightly as a thriller.
But then in the final act comes heartbreak and pathos. Cate loses her fiancé, and every line of her face is carved with pain, but she knows, she knows what she must do. Let Right Be Done. On the other hand, there is Sir Robert, who has given up nothing less than the role of Lord Chief Justice in order to pursue the Winslow case to its end. As the scales fell from Cate’s eyes, the hairs rose on my arms, my eyes unbidden moistened and my throat constricted, and I knew then, in the final act of the play, I knew that this night had passed that fine barrier from ‘good’ to ‘great’, it was then that that fifth reluctant star was wrung out of me.
I rarely give out five stars to the London stage, but last night was nothing but highly deserved. It will stay very long in my memory. I’m glad too that my childhood classic was elevated to such a soaring production. So let right be done, let this show be shown up and down the land, but most of all in London on a very long run!