Archive: This review was first published on May 9, 2013 by the Daily Post
When 14-year-old Ronnie Winslow is expelled from the Royal Naval College for stealing a five shilling postal order, the lives of almost everybody in his family are touched by the repercussions in this astonishingly involving and well-staged play.
It is 1914 when Ronnie is sent home to his gruff father with a letter detailing his crime, although the timid student denies he did anything wrong. Father Arthur Winslow decides his family will not take this lying down and opts to take the Admiralty to court to clear his son's name.
You might think that a two-hour play about a stolen postal order and a court case (which incidentally, we never witness) isn't the most riveting slice of entertainment, but far from it. The Winslow Boy is one of the very best productions I have seen at the Mold theatre, in part due to the well-structured, engrossing story by playwright Terence Rattigan, but also thanks to the mesmerising and utterly convincing performances from the cast.
On the surface this might be a play about a stolen postal order and a court case, but within that framing device are many other sub-plots. Each character has their own story, largely affected by the train of events stemming from the small-time theft.
There is the head of the family, the increasingly ill Arthur, who insists that his stubbornness in forcing the case through the courts and the glare of the media is not about personal pride, but about honour and clearing his boy's name.
But this is no stereotypical post-Victorian buffer, as Joshua Richards imbues the man with an endearing softness in relation to his three children when it would have been so easy to play him as a two-dimensional Colonel Blimp character.
Making his professional stage debut is Laurie Kynaston as Ronnie, complete with cherubic face and a genuine look of fear and confusion in the early stages of the play. This is a solid opening salvo in a career I believe can only go from strength to strength.
Sian Howard makes for a loveable mother hen as Grace Winslow, who gets amusingly starstruck by the flashbulbs and media attention as the court case reaches a head. If anything, her daily trips to the courtroom allow her to show off her impressive array of frocks and hats.
Steffan Donnelly plays foppish elder son Dickie, whose passion for ragtime music and lack of academic prowess irritates his father, but gives space to Anglesey-born Donnelly to infuse the role with breathless enthusiasm reminiscent of a PG Wodehouse creation.
Simon Dutton plays the imposing Sir Robert Morton with his customary towering presence and almost regal style. Dutton often plays imperious types, and plays them well, but this role seems to have been written for him and he is staggeringly impressive - as well as slightly unsettling - as the high and mighty lawyer. However, Morton has his own story too, one which alters everybody's perception of him as the play nears its end, both on and off stage.
Magnificent as the feisty Winslow daughter is the radiant Eleanor Howell who plays the Suffragette Catherine with such poise and warmth and power that she inhabits the role completely. Make no bones about it, you will come out of the theatre loving Catherine Winslow and wanting to know whether she really does fulfil her ambition to sit in the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament. I'm sure she does.
The large cast also boasts turns by the dashing Daniel Llewelyn-Williams as Catherine's husband-to-be John, and who shows great technical ability in his early scenes with Joshua Richards, expressing much of the character's insecurity through body movement. Llewelyn-Williams is a fine physical actor in the sense that he acts using his body as well as his face and voice, and I admire that in a performer.
There's plenty of melancholy in Kai Owen's performance as lovelorn family solicitor Desmond Curry too, and I'm pleased to see Kai given a meatier role than he's had in other recent plays at Mold.
Vivienne Moore is maid Violet, whose overfamiliarity and lack of subtlety at times provides plenty of laughs and at one point a fair amount of embarrassment for the assembled Winslow family. Again, Violet has her own story, although uniquely she is oblivious to it herself.
The whole cast gives 100% to this production, not least Victoria John in the small role of journalist Miss Barnes. Now, don't get me wrong, what Victoria does with the role is expert and extremely amusing (the Margaret Rutherford of Fleet Street) but her performance really is in a different place to everybody else's. She is over the top, loud, brash and not at all believable as a character. It's an interesting choice to make, but for this reviewer, the performance is far too panto.
The Winslow Boy is a damn good story performed by a company of actors who are giving their all. At times I was so engrossed in the play that it felt like I was watching a film. This is one of the best plays I have ever seen at Mold and cannot recommend it highly enough.