VBased on the true life story of Gloucestershire born George Archer-Shee, whose name can be found on the North Woodchester War Memorial, Terence Rattigan’s drama, The Winslow Boy, brings suspense, political drama and a healthy dose of feminisim to the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham this week.
Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Ronnie Winslow, a 13 year old naval cadet is expelled for stealing a five shilling note. Having crept home, Ronnie is scared to tell his father Arthur but eventually is left with no choice. Believing him to be innocent, Arthur embarks on a two year quest to clear his name. His fight against the admiralty comes at great cost to the Winslow family though; the battle is as much personal as it is political.
Dorothea Myer-Bennett is a standout as Catherine; suffragette, single and approaching 30, she is naturally spirited. Whilst her father’s fight is personal, Catherine’s sacrifices in the name of the greater political good are significant, heartfelt and impassioned. Her emotional journey really resonates throughout the play.
She contrasts well against The Archer’s Timothy Watson, whose cold-fish barrister, Sir Robert Morton, fights for the family to pursue his own passion for justice. His distain for women’s rights and emotionless veil keep Catherine at a distance, but as he reveals more of himself, the subtle and somewhat begrudging affection between them grows. The audience also grows fonder of the couple as their relationship develops.
Aden Gillett is equally impressive as Arthur Winslow, the patriarch of the family. His delivery of some of the best lines in the play is spot on and the differing relationships with each of his three children is subtly played. Aden is well complemented by Tessa Peake-Jones as his wife Grace; his foil in every sense, she can see the damage his quest to prove Ronnie’s innocence causes, and plays the part of a torn mother to perfection.
Considering it was written in the 1940s and is set around 1914, The Winslow Boy’s themes remain surprisingly current. This year marks the centenary of women getting the vote yet Catherine’s feminist struggle to be heard is very timely in the current climate. Rattigan’s commentary on the political and media establishments are equally on the nose. The drama is made all the more compelling by never actually leaving the Winslow’s drawing room. The supporting cast do a great job of bringing the courtroom proceedings into the story.
With strong performances, familial tension and a compelling dialogue, this play is definitely worth a watch. It’s also produced by Mark Goucher, the Everyman Theatre’s new Chief Executive, which bodes will for the future. Watch this space!
When can you see The Winslow Boy?
The Winslow Boy is on at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham until Saturday 21st April 2018. Don’t miss it!