Chris Eldon Lee reviews “The Winslow Boy” which is at Clwyd Theatr Cymru until June 1st 2013
One of the things director Terry Hands is particularly good at is spotting a veteran play that suddenly has something important to say to present day audiences.
On the surface, “The Winslow Boy” is a small family rumpus about a 5-shilling postal order played out in a Kensington conservatory. But Terence Rattigan overlays his plot (heavily borrowed from a celebrated court case, even down to details like the weather at the time) with a number of social struggles that haunt us today. The establishment still steamrolls individuals, we have a heartless press and many of us are so tightly budgeted we can’t necessarily afford to make moral stands.
Rattigan wrote his play just after WW2 and set it around 1913, when trouble was brewing in the Balkans. It was a well-mannered, correctly-spoken time when sportsmen were deeply respected and The King could do no wrong. A man’s social standing was to be protected at all costs. So when 13-year-old Ronnie Winslow is sent down from Naval College having been summarily found guilty of petty theft, his threadbare father sacrifices the family’s prospects to prove his innocence.
Rattigan himself must have been taking social risks with his anti-establishment themes, and the suggestion that the Senior Service which had just saved Britain from tyranny might be tyrannical itself may not have been popular in polite circles.
There are several stunning performances in this production, not least from the 19-year old debutant Laurie Kynaston – who ages down to 13 with complete conviction.
Blessed with a cherubic Dylan Thomas profile, this slight lad is hypnotic on stage – even when he’s asleep. He’s beautifully captured the gawky gestures of a growing lad and his wellspring of stage presence easily matched the stalwart Simon Dutton in their big scene together. I’m proud to say Laurie is from in Shropshire and I trust Theatr Clwyd’s raiding party will treat him well for a very long time.
Dutton is clearly enjoying himself as the powerful barrister Sir Robert Morton who dines at The Palace but still entertains lost causes. He’s probably playing the most suave and sophisticated lawyer in London and has the acting ability to simultaneously conceal and reveal the inner, caring man.
There’s an equally passionate performance by Eleanor Howell as Winslow’s principled suffragette daughter who rails at the soulless oligarchy of her society with self-sacrificing clarity. The way Howell handles her character’s changing attitude to the great lawyer is a joy to absorb. If the play were to have a fifth act, they’d probably fall in love
And I was full of admiration for Joshua Richards as the head of the household who carries Rattigan’s case throughout the play like an opener carrying his bat. Despite playing a man ground down by events beyond his control, there was a devilish glint in Richards’ eye when talking of taking on the Press, Parliament and the Admiralty. I connected to his character so strongly I found myself egging him on when he faltered and actually nodding whenever he stressed that ‘Right’ must be done.
So this is another huge success for Clwyd Theatr Cymru. It’s the best thing I’ve seen them do since the last time I said, “it’s the best thing I’ve seen them do”. And that feels like only yesterday.
And if I may be allowed a postscript, one of the other things that Terry Hands is particularly good at is lighting. When the peace of the Winslow household breaks, so does the weather. ‘Real’ rain falls on the conservatory roof. It has to be said that Theatr Clwyd use a lot of stage rain (well, they are in Wales) but what makes it so convincing are the lighting conditions at the time. The slow subtle change from a bright day to a gloomy evening is so realistic it actually enhances the authenticity of the play.
When it comes to gelling up the floods, I think Mr Hands might just have invented a 51st shade of grey.
Visit www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk for bookings & information about Clwyd Theatr Cymru.