Star rating – 9/10
Terence Rattigan is very much in fashion again at the moment, having had several successful adaptations of his plays entertaining packed audiences and receiving critical acclaim at the National Theatre, the Old Vic, and the West Yorkshire Playhouse over the last couple of years. He largely writes of the lives, loves and prejudices of a very English upper class world. His characters’ emotions are often very understated and subdued, but inevitably affect and infect their lives, usually with devastating consequences for them and those around them.
‘The Winslow Boy’, which Rattigan wrote in 1946, when he was in his mid thirties, is one of his most popular plays. In it a seemingly rather trivial incident just before the First World War involving a teenage boy at naval college, and the theft of a five shilling postal order, comes to be a matter of national importance, involving the House of Commons and the Admiralty. Farfetched though that may sound, it was actually base on a real case, which Rattigan used to show the importance of adhering to the principles of truth and right, whatever the cost.
This very well judged BBC Radio 4 adaptation from 1981, which has just been reissued as an audio book, captures the essence of the play brilliantly. Michael Aldridge is masterful as Arthur Winslow, the father of Ronnie the alleged thief. Arthur is stern and dominant as head of his family, but will not give up the fight to clear his son’s, and his family’s, name once he is convinced of his innocence. Sarah Badel is also determined and strong as Ronnie’s elder sister, who is as sure of her brother’s innocence as she is of the fight for women’s suffrage. And the formidable Sir Robert Morton, who as one of the most eminent barristers of his day, rather surprising takes up the case on the strength of the principle that they all hold most dear – truth. Aubrey Woods is excellent as the scarily effective barrister.
Rattigan brings out all sorts of moral and political issues in this play, and is his usual master of language to entertain and amuse along the way. It is all packed into 90 minutes of sheer joy to listen to, and very well worth the relatively small investment of time for such joyous rewards.