My brief and undistinguished stage career included a high school production of The Winslow Boy, Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play about Ronnie Winslow, a 14 year old boy expelled from a British naval academy for stealing a five shilling postal order and his family’s fight to prove his innocence. I played Ronnie’s ne’er do well older brother, Dickie. I remember I had to do the turkey trot while saying my lines (neither very well), and I had the classic exit line, “Oh, rot, father!”
A new production of The Winslow Boy just opened at the American Airlines Theatre, and I can assure you it’s far better than my high school production. When John Osborne and the “kitchen sink” playwrights came to prominence in the late ‘50s, Rattigan was considered old-fashioned and irrelevant, but a well-made play will stand the test of time, and though it’s set in the Edwardian era of the early 20th century, “The Winslow Boy” has surprising resonance. The upper middle class family’s seemingly quixotic quest for justice against an image-conscious, intransigent government – the sacrifices they make, the tensions they feel – hits you on an emotional level. Maybe that’s why David Mamet turned it into a film in 1990.
Only two of the actors – Roger Rees of Nicholas Nickleby fame, as the fiercely determined father, and Catherine Parry, as his independent-minded daughter – are Brits, but the whole cast manage their accents well. It’s a play with a slew of well-written roles, and the actors, including the reliable veterans Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Cumpsty, make the most of them.
According to British law, when a civilian wanted to sue the government, it could only happen if the crown said, “Let right be done.” In this production, justice is done to a fine old play.