This is another canny choice by the Octagon, not least because it’s a gripping minor masterpiece from a suddenly-fashionable-again playwright.
Fourteen-year-old Ronnie Winslow is expelled from naval college, accused of stealing a postal order. The lad swears he didn’t do it, and so his father Arthur begins a fight to prove his son’s innocence.
When Arthur decides to employ top barrister Sir Robert Morton, the family is split – his high legal fees prevent elder son Dickie from continuing at Oxford and although daughter Kate supports her father and admires the supercilious Morton, it jeopardizes her future happiness when her fiance’s father threatens to withdraw his son’s allowance.
Though first seen in 1946, Rattigan, basing his play on a real-life case, sets it just before the 1914-18 war, with middle-class society on the eve of disintegration, and delivers a state-of-the-nation address about the battle between an entrenched establishment and the individual.
It’s a powerful piece and director David Thacker and his team do it full justice. The flashy stand-out role is that of the high and mighty Sir Robert and Christopher Villiers (former Emmerdale actor) gives him the spot-on mix of irritating self-satisfaction and genuine dedication to a cause worth fighting.
Christopher Ravenscroft (the sidekick detective in The Ruth Rendall Mysteries) plays Arthur Winslow as a chronic arthritic with a caustic wit and fatherly sternness mixed with an absolute determination to see the cause through to the end, no matter how difficult that may be. And Suzan Sylvester is the protective mother and Georgina Strawson Ronnie’s feisty suffragette sister Catherine.
Fifteen-year-old Sam Ramsay, as the unfortunate Ronnie, acquits himself with distinction on opening night (three young actors will alternate in the role during the run) and there are excellent cameos from, among others, Huw Higginson as the gauche solicitor, in love with Catherine, and Flaminia Cinque as the stalwart maid.
The Winslow Boy is elegantly dressed and lit and an altogether highly satisfactory evening’s entertainment.