Theater archives

The Winslow Boy Is a Story of Triumph Played Out Like a Tragedy


The Roundabout’s Broadway house specializes in well-upholstered revivals. Few come better carpeted, curtained, and papered than The Winslow Boy, Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play about a family seeking justice for a maligned son. But at this production, a recast import from the Old Vic, you won’t find yourself distracted by Peter McKintosh’s sets and costumes, however finely wrought. Under Lindsay Posner’s shrewd direction, the drama explores—neatly and devastatingly—the private costs of public redress.

In 1914, Ronnie Winslow, a naval cadet, is expelled after schoolmasters decide he has stolen from another student. His father, Arthur (the excellent Roger Rees, who unfortunately knows how good he is), and his sister, Catherine, demand a fair trial, even as his mother worries about the price (economic and emotional) this mission will exact.

The Winslow Boy, based on true events, is a story of triumph that plays out like a tragedy. The structure is retrograde (so well-oiled it appears perversely creeky), the Edwardian vocabulary strained. But the solid scenes and stolid characters pack a surprising emotional wallop. Rattigan is our most expert playwright at calibrating repression and confession. When these characters speak candidly, you will feel your heartstrings tugged by a master fiddler. For a play centered on an adolescent, this is very grown-up entertainment.