By: David Sheward
The Roundabout Theatre Company has a winner with this finely tuned revival of Terrence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy in a production by Lindsay Posner previously presented by London’s Old Vic company and recast for New York. Premiered in 1946, the play is set in the veddy proper Kensington drawing room of the upper-middle-class Winslow family on the eve of World War I (the properly understated set and costumes are by Peter McKintosh). Youngest son Ronnie has been expelled from a prestigious naval academy for allegedly stealing a postal order worth a few shillings. His stubborn father, Arthur, risks the family’s financial stability and reputation to clear the boy’s name.
The effects of the case are catastrophic: Placid mother Grace is driven to distraction, elder brother Dickie is forced to quit college and get a banking job, and sister Catherine’s engagement to a promising military officer is endangered. Even the beloved, slightly dizzy maid Violet may lose her position. All seems lost until the celebrated, icy advocate Sir Robert Morton swoops in just before the intermission and, after a brilliantly theatrical cross-examination of Ronnie, agrees to take the case. Guess which side wins?
It may sound a bit like an old episode of Upstairs, Downstairs, but the battle of a wronged citizen fighting an oppressive bureaucracy has contemporary resonance. Posner does somewhat indulge in stiff-upper-lip clichés with some broad comic staging, but, for the most part, he has steered his sterling cast to taking the proceedings with the utmost seriousness. Though the crime Ronnie is charged with may seem petty, the principle of having his day in court is passionately defended as vital to a free society.
Roger Rees displays the tender heart beneath Arthur’s blustering exterior and skillfully documents the stubborn father’s physical decline as the character’s infirmity increases with each act. Alessandro Nivola effectively captures Sir Robert’s cool demeanor and biting wit. Charlotte Parry as the politically radical sister is the anchor of the play, providing much of the motivation for action, and she does a splendid job steering the plot’s course. Michael Cumpsty is endearingly oafish as her clumsy suitor and Chandler Williams is dashing and determined as his rival, the military officer.
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio gets more than her fair share of comic and emotive moments as the mother. Spencer David Milford conveys Ronnie’s desperate protestations of innocence as well as his vignettes of being a typical youngster more interest in going to the pictures than in his trial. Zachary Booth has the difficult assignment of playing the feckless Dickie who is mostly inserted for comic relief, but the actor handles this task with aplomb. Henny Russell steals many of her scenes as the eccentric maid. Even the tiny walk-on roles such as superficial reporter (Meredith Forlenza) and her photographer (Stephen Pilkington) are perfectly cast in this top-drawer revival.
Oct. 17-Dec. 1. Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue 8pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 2 hours and 45 minutes, including intermission. $52-127. (212) 719-1300. www.roundabouttheatre.org
Photo: Joan Marcus
Originally Published on October 19, 2013 in ArtsinNY.com