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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Old Vic


  Naomi Frederick and Henry Goodman/ Ph: Nobby Clark

You can almost hear the breathless cry of "me too, me too" as – after a slew of fine revivals celebrating his 2011 centenary – Terence Rattigan's dramatic plea for justice at all costs comes belatedly scurrying into the Old Vic. The Winslow Boy exhibits the virtues – conspicuously fine crafting; decent characters in extremis – that made Rattigan unfashionable for so long, and also made him a pleasant rediscovery two years ago.

Alas, Lindsay Posner's production errs on the side of brittle intonations and wax dummy staging. The only sense that the rights of the individual against the state are at stake comes from the ever-dependable Henry Goodman as a father prepared to risk his health and his family's happiness to salvage his son's honour.

The play is based on a real-life Edwardian story of a boy expelled from naval college for stealing a postal order, and the subsequent court case that challenged the Crown's legal impunity, but the action famously never steps outside the Winslow family drawing room. Here, Goodman's crabby but progressive patriarch visibly diminishes as the minutes tick by. But the rest of the family seems infected with the fecklessness of older son Dickie (a lovely performance by Nick Hendrix).

Deborah Findlay as the mother and Naomi Frederick as the suffragette sister are oddly unmoved by the plight of young but grown-up looking Ronnie Winslow (Charlie Rowe), whatever they say. As the barrister Sir Robert Morton, Peter Sullivan has a nice curl to his lip, but doesn't sound sufficiently posh or sufficiently rehearsed. The lesser characters don't seem to have had much direction at all.

The blocking is terribly stiff, with characters striking poses at the front of the stage, and with Tim Mitchell's lighting throwing horrible shadows all over Peter McKintosh's set. The whole thing looks like a photograph from Theatre World, circa 1932, and since Rattigan actually wrote it in 1946, that tells you something.

There isn't an ounce of fat on this play, and its message is as apposite as ever. But if the Rattigan centenary taught us anything, it's that only a tiny margin of care separates a fine Rattigan revival (like Thea Sharrock's After the Dance at the National) from something that looks very, very old fashioned indeed.


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