Review – The Winslow Boy, Old Vic

Monday 18 March 2013

twb_tov_website_carousel“Is it the one about the postal order?” queried Andrew, who, like Phil, often confuses Terrence Rattigan’s postal order play The Winslow Boy with his celebration-of-gravy play The Browning Version.

Of course the Whingers both wistfully remember postal orders. So their pre-show briefing to their partially younger, partially foreign (or both) entourage included memories of opening birthday cards from aunties hoping that a postal order might flutter out.

14-year-old Ronnie Winslow (a remarkably assured Charlie Rowe) has been expelled from Osborne Naval College for allegedly taking points a five bob postal order. His father Arthur (Henry Goodman) spends 2 years (1912-1914) fighting to clear his name. Based on true events it might equally have been called Cause Célèbre if Rattigan hadn’t been saving that for his last play, which incidentally popped up at the Old Vic a couple of years ago.

We don’t see the actual trial (though there’s a teasing suggestion of it when Ronnie is cross-examined in the family drawing room) and we see little of the press who are apparently doorstepping the family home. It’s more tell than show and really shouldn’t have worked for us.

But Rattigan cleverly concentrates on the impact it has on the family relationships and the financial hardships that ensue in an expensive fight for justice. Mind you, if you will hire the best barrister in the business, Sir Robert Morton (Peter Sullivan), then household cuts must be made. If only Rattigan were still alive today, he’d surely concoct as interesting a night in the theatre out of the Pryce/Huhne affair. Invariably someone at the Tricycle Theatre will. Although it might be a tad harder to whip up sympathies for the protagonists in that one.

The plot is supremely well-crafted in an old-fashioned way, which of course we mean as a compliment. Parallels with present day human rights and trials attracting the media spotlight are plain to see and yet there are still plenty of amusing moments along the way. The Audience may have a good gag about reading (or not reading), but TWB one has very good one about Reading. However, Rattigan couldn’t possibly have foreseen the biggest laugh of the night coming when Ronnie’s brother Dickie (Nick Hendrix) declares himself a liberal conservative.

There’s a convincing warmth among the family which includes Deborah Findlay and Naomi Frederick as Ronnie’s mum and suffragette sister Catherine respectively. The whole cast are excellent.

And didn’t they drink from small wine glasses in those days? Nothing like the glass buckets served up these days. When Violet (Wendy Nottingham), the Winslow maid, is offered wine Phil was astonished when she replied “Not too much sir, just a sip” as that’s as much as she was likely to get.

As it’s from Mr R and helmed by Lindsay Posner – surely one of the most consistently reliable directors around – we shouldn’t really be surprised that we were completely engaged by the evening. This was most tellingly highlighted by Andrew’s reaction when he found out it had lasted just 10 minutes short of 3 hours but insisted “it didn’t feel like it” and that he “concentrated throughout” and “didn’t nod off once”. Someone should call Andrew for jury duty.

Solid and highly recommended.



Nothing to carp about then? Well, despite being in a well-behaved audience who appeared as gripped by the drama as us, there was no mobile phone warning announcement before the play, so, inevitably a couple went off. What’s going on? We’ve whinged about this constantly yet little is being done. Tsk.

We’re going to name and shame the productions that don’t use warnings and have produced a special Whingephone App which announces how many went off during the play. Trouble is you have to leave your phone on for it to work. Probably needs a bit more thought.




10 Responses to “Review – The Winslow Boy, Old Vic”

  1. Lyrcac Says:

    There was a mobile phone announcement pre Peter and Alice and 3 still went off the night I saw it.
    Even if they are there I find people ignore them!

  2. margarita Says:

    If any of your readers are in the habit of leaving phones in some (supposedly) silent mode as they can’t endure the idea of being off the air for the duration of the performance, can I please appeal to you to control your panic at the dreaded isolation and turn them off completely. And do you know how pathetic it is to see hordes of phones being turned on and studied the moment the interval arrives or the performance ends?

    Turn off when you arrive at the theatre and leave them off till you’re back on the street. Please.

    • Oh margarita, I’m with you all the way. One recent announcement told us to turn all mobiles “OFF, not just to silent, as the buzz and flash of light disturbes other audience members and the cast.” Quite right too. But at Turn of the Screw one person discovered she did not know how to turn her phone off and sought advice from around her at the Interval. We were all on edge during Act 1 waiting for the dreaded call….
      Is there anyone here who will attempt to stick up for the multitude who must have their phones on at all times, pathetic fools?

  3. Christine Kilby Says:

    I am with all the above re this inexcusable behaviour. It is clearly necessary to give out a warning judging by the number of people who then start to rummage in their bags to switch off. Mind you, some people are often so deeply involved with vital conversations that they don’t hear the announcement – presumably these are the ones whose phones go off and destroy the moment? For God’s sake please let’s start a nationwide campaign drawing the public’s attention to theatre etiquette. We should include the growing and unacceptable trend in noisy eating and drinking not to mention those audience members who simply cannot suppress their need to pass comments during the production! Ooh I enjoyed that Whinge!

  4. […] are starting to come in for the Winslow Boy at the Old Vic theatre through May 25th.  The  West End Whingers thought the plot supremely well crafted and were completely engaged by the […]

  5. Concierge Says:

    It was a great performance last night and although there were a few rude people who didn’t silent their phones I can assure you that I did hear the announcement for ‘All mobile phones to be switched off’. Even more noticeable was the amount of coughing going on. I know you can’t keep it in but I honestly thought there were a few people trying to bring the Old Vic crashing down !

  6. margarita Says:

    I’m biased here as I’m a sound engineer and intend to write an article for The Gramophone about audience members being unaware of their own sound contribution to the occasion. It is possible to clear your throat with your mouth CLOSED against a wodge of tissue and not shout HAH as if in the street. The worst is a hand that flaps briefly across the mouth during this noise. I can’t answer for the medical value but can vouch that it does nothing to decrease the sound level.

  7. cunningfox Says:

    How appropriate it is to be having this conversation in the same week as the passing of that great scourge of mobile phones in theatres, Richard Griffiths.

    • Christine Kilby Says:

      Well, to be fair, these conversations started prior to RG’s untimely death. That said, I am aware that RG was on one occasion very annoyed by a stray mobile and with which I heartily agree. My respects to the wonderful RG by way of this site…

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