The Winslow Boy
Terence Rattigan’s play, broadly about a father’s fight for justice for his son, is intriguing at times. It even seems relevant, particularly when the papers and gossip rags of the day (the action takes place in Kensington over a two-year period, 1912-1914) start weighing in on the legal drama. But the play falters when it gives equal voice to the A and the B story.
Most plays, TV shows and movies have an A story—the main plotline—and the B story—some “sidebar” storyline played out by secondary characters. As it’s the title of the play, it follows that the A story here is about one of the Winslow boys, Ronnie, who, at just 13, is expelled from the Naval academy for alleged theft. (He swears up and down that he is innocent.) His father, Arthur Winslow (a splendid Roger Rees), immediately takes up his case, and the rest of the A story concerns Arthur’s debilitating obsession with clearing his son’s name.
That in and of itself is a compelling story. But then there’s the B story, which follows the Winslow girl, Arthur’s daughter, Catherine (Charlotte Parry). She’s a suffragette and a blossoming feminist. She’s just become engaged, and she’s her father’s daughter. This storyline is also interesting, and, at first, I welcomed the richness of it, as it helped develop the characters (and I quite liked seeing such a strong female character, who is clever but not shrewish, on stage). But as the play wore on, and we took more and more time to check in with Catherine, I became more and more restless.
The even-handedness of the two storylines makes the play, as a whole, seem overstuffed. It slogged on a bit, and ended an entire scene later than it should have. (There is a moment toward the end that wraps up the A storyline and feels like the perfect place to end the play, but then we spend another ten minutes wrapping up the B storyline.)
Perhaps some of this is due to the pacing in Lindsay Posner’s production. The direction lacks a sense of urgency (most of the time), a hunger that you’d think these characters would feel. The lackadaisical pace makes the justice they’re fighting for seem frivolous and therefore unengaging.
(And for all the time taken to explore what effect the actions of one Winslow boy has on certain members of the family, there is very little time spent on what changes for other members, like the other Winslow boy, Arthur’s older son, Dickie.)
That’s not to say the actors seem unengaged. Indeed, though the play is filled with somewhat stock characters, Rees (The West Wing, Peter and the Starcatcher), Parry and the rest of the ensemble play them with verve.
Taken all together, The Winslow Boy is a well-written play (there are some clever asides about language that Aaron Sorkin would love), and this is a good production, but the unfocused nature of the storylines kept my focus waxing and waning.