Reviewed by Jan Mellor
The Winslow Boy was a book I studied and enjoyed at school, but I hadn’t seen it on stage or read it for a long while so was looking forward to this adaption of the 1946 play directed by Rachel Kavanaugh and starring such well-known actors as Tessa Peake-Jones and Aden Gillett at The Lowry theatre in Salford, Manchester.
The stage was set up superbly (designed by Michael Taylor) in a pre-first-world-war Edwardian sitting room and opened with the young Ronnie Winslow (played by the very talented Misha Butler in his stage debut) frightened to meet his parents after being expelled from Osbourne Naval College for theft. The story unfolds beautifully with the cast setting the scene of a happy family of devoted parents with their three children, Dickie – with his love for modern music, Catherine (the wonderful Dorothea Myer-Bennett) – a head-strong suffragette with plans to marry the successful John and the revered youngest Ronnie.
The story has this family entangled with disputes, despair, misfortune and stress as through the next 2 years the Winslow family lose all credibility, respect and wealth in the fight to clear the name of Ronnie Winslow for stealing a postal order of five shillings (25p). The play was based on the true story of such a 13-year-old George Archer-Shee who, in 1908, was accused of stealing the postal order from his friend Terence Back. At the time this story hit the national front-page headlines throughout the two years of trials that had the Admiralty, the head courts, parliament and the nation in the grip of the outcome and the innocence or guilt of this young boy.
The play was a dream and acted superbly by all stars on stage. It ran at a good pace and was delivered word-perfect. The audience were tantalised and then completely spellbound by the impact this trauma was having on the whole family and the delightful austere Sir Robert Morton (superb Timothy Watson) added to the mix as Ronnie’s defence lawyer. The cast took the audience through those two years of hardship with them and we shared their woes, compassion and frustration throughout. We shared the family’s need (especially that of the frail and devoted father played splendidly by Aden Gilett) to see that as stated by the courts at the time ‘Let right be done’. As the young 15-year-old was found innocent of the crime by the high courts and as the lonely Catherine found solace in her friendship with the dedicated Sir Robert Morton, the nation, the audience and I all thought it had.
I would recommend you see the play to witness superb acting from a talented cast, great direction and set and to return to a time when justice, pride and the family unit mattered above all else. A time that maybe has been forgotten.
Tickets cost from £12.50 to£31.50 (booking fees may apply).
The Winslow Boy is at The Lowry in Manchester from 9-14 April 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.thelowry.com or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000