The Winslow Boy
Octagon Theatre, Howell Croft South
Until April 21

Tickets £9 to £21.50, to book visit or ring 01204 520661.

AN uncaring Government, determined only to look after its own and protect its reputation? A young man unfairly castigated by the agencies of the state? A family determined to do whatever it takes to clear his name? No, this is not some new play set in China, Russia or even modern England at its worst. This is Terence Rattigan’s 1946 masterpiece, which the year after his centenary proves why he remains one of the most important playwrights of his time.

The play follows the fortunes of the Winslow family, whose youngest son Ronnie is cast out of naval college after being accused of stealing a five shilling postal order – a crime which Ronnie is adamant he did not commit. At great personal expense, and against the judgment of revolutionary feminist daughter Catherine, the family’s patriarch, Arthur Winslow, hires the services of Sir Robert Morton, the country’s premier barrister, to fight the case of Winslow versus Rex.

Christopher Villiers is magnificent as Sir Robert, artfully blending disdain with a passion for law and the single-minded pursuit of right.

Christopher Ravenscroft’s depiction of Arthur inslow’s slow and painful physical breakdown over the course of the case is heartbreaking yet he also nails the older man’s sharp wit and keen brain, while Georgina Strawson and Iestyn Arwel provide excellent support as Arthur’s older children, determined Catherine and superficial Dickie.

Suzan Sylvester is warm as Ronnie’s mother, Grace, and also provides plenty of laughs, particularly when discussing her curtains rather than her son’s case. And completing the Winslow family is Octagon stage first-timer, Sam Ramsay. The 15 year-old acquits himself beautifully alongside the more established actors, and deserves a long and successful career.

There are excellent supporting performances, too, from Flaminia Cinque, the unconventional parlour maid who the Winslows “have to keep explaining to people”, and from Octagon regular Huw Higginson, as Catherine’s lovelorn suitor, Desmond Curry.

Time and again, the Octagon presents plays that stir the soul and tug the heartstrings.

This latest production is no exception.