“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.
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.