Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Winslow Boy ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
After the Roundabout's dreary revival of "Man and Boy" two years ago, I was both surprised and dismayed to learn that they were presenting another Rattigan play this season. Fortunately, this time out they got things right. "The Winslow Boy" is a much better play and this is a much better production -- imported from the Old Vic with a new cast. This drawing-room drama with comic overtones is based on an actual case in early 20th-century England in which a 13-year-old cadet was accused of theft and expelled from the Royal Naval College after a dubious investigation. His father believes in his son's innocence and embarks on a two-year search for justice which exacts a steep price on the family, both financially and emotionally. The Winslow paterfamilias is Arthur (Roger Rees), a retired banker with a strong sense of his own correctness. His wife Grace (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) has her hands full with him. Their eldest child Catherine (Charlotte Parry) is an active suffragette, newly betrothed to officer John Watherstone (Chandler Williams), who is a bit of a prig. Middle child Dickie (Zachary Booth), who is at Oxford, is far more interested in partying than studying. Ronnie (Spencer Davis Milford), the accused thief, is still very much a child. Violet (Henny Russell), the family maid, is a bit rough around the edges, even after 24 years of service. The family solicitor Desmond Curry (Michael Cumpsty), a former cricket star, has long felt the pangs of unrequited love for Catherine. He introduces the family to Sir Robert Morton (Alessandro Nivola), London's leading barrister, who, after an almost brutal interrogation of Ronnie, agrees to take the case. Over the next two years, the case became a cause celebre and fodder for the tabloid press, whom Rattigan mercilessly parodied in the person of young reporter Miss Barnes (Meredith Forlenza). Rattigan wisely concentrates on the family's changing relationships, rather than on the complicated legal details of the case. In a strong cast, Cumpsty, Parry and Nivola stand out. I was slightly disappointed that Rees's performance was not more nuanced. The sets and costumes by Peter McKintosh are outstanding, as is Lindsay Posner's direction. Although the play's pace is leisurely, I was never bored. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including intermission.

NOTE: Reality is often crueler than fiction. George Archer-Shee, the accused thief in the actual case, died at Ypres at the age of 19.

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