Review Roundup: ‘The Winslow Boy’

The Winslow Boy, Terrence Rattigan’s 1946 play about a young naval cadet accused of stealing and his family’s legal fight to clear his name, opened Oct. 17 at the American Airlines Theater. Roundabout Theater Company presented the, revival which was previously staged at London’s Old Vic company. Set in Edwardian England, the play traces the impact of the case on the boy’s upper-middle class family. His increasingly infirm father slowly drains the family fortune for legal expenses, his brother is forced to quit college and his suffragette sister’s engagement is endangered. Roger Ress heads the cast as the boy’s stubborn dad, along with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Alessandro Nivola, Michael Cumpsty, and Charlotte Parry. What was the critics’ verdict? Here are excerpts from the major reviews.

Charlotte Parry and Roger Rees in Roundabout Theatre Company's The Winslow Boy (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Charlotte Parry and Roger Rees in Roundabout Theatre Company’s ‘The Winslow Boy’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

 

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
“Anchoring the production is Mr. Rees’s perfectly modulated performance as Arthur, on whom the anxiety and notoriety surrounding the case take the most physical toll. When the play begins, he is obviously a man whose physical prowess is on the wane, even if his mind remains sharp, but as the months and years pass, he grows stooped and infirm. Mr. Rees movingly intimates that, underneath his confident exterior, Arthur has also become prey to thoughts of how heedlessly, and perhaps permanently, he has endangered his family’s fortunes: his eyes glitter with disturbed imaginings. Rattigan’s drama grows more nuanced and contemplative as it proceeds, becoming something richer than a David-and-Goliath tale about the nobility of fighting for justice.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Credit director Lindsay Posner, who staged the play at London’s Old Vic and recast it for New York. Scrupulously acted and handsomely designed, the show vibrates with humor and genuine emotion.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“At nearly three hours, the play takes its time yet never flags. Director Lindsay Posner sets a slow but steady pace, smartly detailing how the case impacts the characters.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Alessandro Nivola as the hard-charging lawyer Sir Robert Morton turns in a comic gem as a ‘cold-blooded, supercilious, sneering fish’ of a man, but we see the sparks fly between him and the Winslow daughter. Nivola sometimes threatens to overpower the drama with farce—watching him languidly eat sandwiches while on the phone will make you howl—but he adds a zing when the play begins to sag. His cross-examination of the Winslow boy that ends the first act is superbly tense.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“Directed for the screen by Anthony Asquith in 1948, and again by David Mamet in 1999, the play was last seen on Broadway 65 years ago. It’s a slow starter, and indeed its unhurried four acts might seem to lack economy for contemporary audiences. But in a production as expertly judged and performed as this one, there’s real pleasure in settling into the plush upholstery to savor the nuances of character, the subtle humor and fine shadings of the drama’s consideration of justice and honor.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“A top-drawer ensemble masterfully helmed by Lindsay Posner and headed by Roger Rees do the honors in this tense legal drama, which Rattigan has shrewdly taken out of the courtroom and into the drawing room.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“At its best, the play is an entertaining, and ultimately touching, study of these characters; and the new production—which the Roundabout Theatre Company imported from London’s Old Vic (with a new cast)—delivers that with predictable warmth and ease.”

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York
“Roger Rees, in a superb performance, endows the gouty paterfamilias with palpable decency and warmth as he stakes his family’s fortune on what seems a quixotic quest. The offstage legal drama is balanced against the shifting romantic prospects of Ronnie’s suffragette sister, Catherine (a charming, self-assured Charlotte Parry), whose possible matches include a dogged family friend (Michael Cumpsty, endearingly cloddish) and the arrogant lawyer (a dashing Alessandro Nivola) who takes up Ronnie’s case. And Rattigan’s witty examination of the price of honor is subtly framed by a tragic irony: The looming ‘scrap’ abroad that the play’s young men are so eager to join will turn out, of course, to be World War I. Innocent the lamb may be, but slaughter yet awaits.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“Director Lindsay Posner, who previously staged the show at London’s Old Vic, brings a crisp precision to the proceedings. But there’s only so much you can do with the material, which feels like an over-long and decidedly twee Masterpiece Theatre drama. The second act sags with repetitive points and the unfortunate circumstances of its staging: Since the action is confined to the Winslows’ finely appointed Edwardian drawing room (designed by Peter McKintosh), we only get second-hand accounts of the climactic proceedings in the courtroom and halls of parliament. As a result, this distant footnote in history feels even more remote.

David Finkle, The Huffington Post
“What’s absolutely well-made about The Winslow Boy is that with all the crackling dialog handed around, the roles are God’s gifts to actors. Maybe the first thing to say is that ensemble playing doesn’t get much better than this, thanks to director Posner, [Peter] McKintosh for his flattering period costumes and dialect coach Stephen Gabis.”