The Winslow Boy by Terrance Rattigan
Director: Lindsay Posner
Designer: Peter McKintosh
Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell
Sound Designer: Fergus O’Hare
Composer: Michael Bruce
Lead Actors: Henry Goodman - Arthur Winslow, Naomi Frederick - Catherine Winslow and Peter Sullivan - Sir Robert Morton.
After Trevor Nunn’s ‘Flare Path’ in 2011, Angus Jackson’s ‘The Browning Version’ last year and now Lindsay Posner’s ‘The Winslow Boy’, I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s possible to do Rattigan badly. Even the student production of ‘Flare Path’ that I saw last week made for a surprisingly good evening of theatre. My advice to any other student and aspiring directors is: do some Rattigan! He may not provide you with an opportunity to be ultra “relevant” or experimental but he will give you a multi-layered text rich in character and substance. Rattigan’s genius is that he is able to tackle the big issues without losing sight of the intimate and the personal, something very few writers ever manage. In ‘The Winslow Boy’ the big issues are justice, human rights and standing up for what you believe in but this is all played out within an intimate portrayal of family life and of a father’s love for his son. All with Rattigan’s characteristic lightness of touch that makes it powerful, tender and funny all at the same time.
Just as writing a play with so many layers is difficult, directing one must be equally difficult. The challenge is to decide which layers to bring to the surface whilst making sure that the ones you do are still transparent enough so that the audience can see right through to the bottom. (I agree, this metaphor has gone too far!) Posner has judged this perfectly though. I always think that if a play has been well directed, you don’t notice that it’s been directed at all. This was definitely the case here. The action on stage felt natural and utterly appropriate.
Posner is also exceptionally good at bringing out balances of authority on stage. Arthur Winslow, the father of the house, has his leather chair in which he always sits. When Sir Robert Morton, the famous hotshot lawyer, arrives in the drawing room Arthur is not present. Sir Robert moves across the space as if it were his own drawing room, placing his cane and hat beside Arthur’s chair. As an audience member you’re immediately screaming “But that’s Mr Winslow’s chair!” in your head. Arthur enters and Sir Robert asks Arthur to take a seat. Arthur hesitates, looking at his chair behind Sir Robert, but accepts his relation to the armchair on the other side of the room. It is a very subtle and very believable moment but one which immediately establishes the nature of Sir Robert’s character, not to mention a great deal of tension besides.
The performance of Henry Goodman as Arthur Winslow deserves a particular mention for its subtlety and tenderness, combined with a heartfelt and passionate belief in the injustice that has been done to his son. He also possesses an astonishing ability to apparently age before your eyes, finishing the play looking frail and tired. Peter Sullivan’s performance as Sir Robert was also exceptional. As soon as he enters, the energy lifts and he manages to portray the tenderness that lay beneath a cold exterior. I even wondered whether he was in fact harbouring secret affections for Catherine Winslow (Arthur’s daughter and fellow fighter for justice). He also possesses impeccable comic timing, his blunt remarks regularly being greeted with laughter from the audience. A final mention should go to Nick Hendrix as Dickie Winslow, the older brother, who’s presence also heralded a noticeable lift in energy on stage.
Peter McKintosh’s design is also perfectly judged, feeling completely appropriate for each character and the period as a whole, whilst Tim Mitchell’s lighting was equally fitting. I wasn’t 100% taken with Michael Bruce’s music but it did not detract from the overall enjoyment of the production.
Posner has been going from strength to strength over the last few years: ‘An Ideal Husband’ at the Vaudeville Theatre with Samantha Bond in 2010; ‘Uncle Vanya’ with the all-star cast of Ken Stott, Anna Friel, Laura Carmichael and Sam West at the end of last year; and, of course, his other great Old Vic success, ‘Noises Off’. This doesn’t quite reach the heights of ‘Noises Off’ (although that is a somewhat unfair comparison) but it is a beautifully executed play which I would highly recommend, especially if (like me) you’re under 25 and can get yourself a £12 ticket.