THE WINSLOW BOY
You may already know of my affection for the work of Rattigan, whose Man and Boy we revived in 2011 at this same theatre. Although he is arguably one of the strongest voices in the British theatre to come out of the mid-20th century, Rattigan has never enjoyed the same acclaim as contemporaries like Noel Coward or, in America, Tennessee Williams. While these writers have continued to have their work performed on stages large and small with great frequency, Rattigan spent decades being neglected, and it is only in the past few years that he is having a well-deserved resurgence.
The Winslow Boy captures everything that I love about Rattigan's writing. He is known for creating extremely deep and detailed characters, writing in a beautifully naturalistic style, and crafting his plays with a strong sense of structure. You'll see all of these elements at play in The Winslow Boy, as well as the kind of subtle emotional currents that Rattigan so elegantly places deep within. This notion of keeping emotions roiling beneath the surface is, for me, one of the great assets of Rattigan's plays, but it's also what led to his fall from critical and popular favor. While Rattigan continued to write about the quiet dramas of the upper and middle classes he knew well, a new generation of brash young playwrights came along to shake things up and put the working class on stage. John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (revived here at Roundabout in 2012) marked a major turning point, as the stiff upper lip characters of Rattigan were blasted aside by Osborne's new idea of the "angry young man" taking over the theatre.
It's truly a shame that it's taken us so long to realize that there is room for both of these sensibilities. While the wild energy of Osborne and those of his ilk certainly makes for an exciting ride, these stories don't eliminate the need for others that are more reserved but equally deep in their impact. Because it has taken so long for these dueling tones to be reconciled, plays like The Winslow Boy have languished without reexamination for far too long.
This is a play that takes on one of the thorniest questions out there: What does it mean to do the "right" thing? The story brings up questions of justice, both legal and moral, of family loyalty, both generously given and unwillingly received, and of individual rights, both due to the self and in conflict with the larger society.
Interestingly, The Winslow Boy is one of a few plays that Rattigan based on real events. While the play was first seen on stage in 1946, it is based on a court case that took place pre-World War I, and the play is set in that same period. Rattigan wanted to write a play about British justice, and he felt that he could explore the issue more fully by placing the events in a more innocent time, before the country was deeply affected by two devastating wars. This was a time when the tale of a cadet accused of stealing a postal order could still make front page news, so Rattigan took the story of the real cadet George Archer-Shee and turned him into Ronnie Winslow, whose alleged misdeed sets off the chain of events that will eventually take him to the highest court in all of England.
It's a juicy and fascinating story, populated by incredibly memorable characters. I think that, when you have seen The Winslow Boy, you'll find yourself right alongside me in wondering how a writer like Rattigan could be ignored for so long. I hope you will share your thoughts on this playwright and this play by emailing me at email@example.com. I can't tell you how greatly I value your feedback each season. Please keep it coming.
I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!
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