Review: The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan - Chichester Festival Theatre

The Winslow Boy
The Winslow Boy

There is nothing more certain to prick a tear from a Chichester audience than a fight for justice.

The Winslow Boy - a play based on true events at the turn of the 20th century - goes one better. It does not merely seek justice, it demands that right is done too.

In pursuit of that principle a middle class family sacrifices the very financial and societal security that defines them as they take on the establishment itself to prove their 13 year old son and brother did not steal a five shilling postal order at the Royal Naval College where he was a cadet.

It’s arguably Rattigan’s finest work - rejoicing in everything that comprises the British psyche: the defence of the under-dog; the obstinate determination not to give in; and a gentle humour that refuses to be bowed by starchy social nicety.

This is a classic drawing room drama - set in Arthur Winslow’s house in Kennington, London just before the first world war.

But unlike many contemporary works, time has not blunted its relevance.

On the contrary, in an age where principles are seemingly sold increasingly cheaply and a nation’s self-awareness has never been more challenged - the themes here resonate deeply.

The drama opens with young Ronnie Winslow’s (Misha Butler) unexpected returned home having been effectively expelled for the theft.

His father Arthur (Aden Gillett) believes resolutely in his son’s innocence while suffragette sister Catherine (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) has her own equally understandable reasons for backing the cause.

In the end, aided by top barrister Sir Robert Morton (Timothy Watson) they take the case all the way to the House of Commons before winning leave to get permission for a full court hearing.

This is a beautifully polished production with the added elegance of Tessa Peake-Jones as Arthur’s wife Grace.

As the cast accepts the final applause, Watson gives the young Butler a deserved nod of respectful approval.

But shining out is Myer-Bennett’s performance - as she demonstrates that in a male-dominated age, this show belongs to their wives and daughters.