‘The Winslow Boy’

Shakespeare ’70 revives this Terence Rattigan play at The College of New Jersey.

By: Stuart Duncan
   In the year 1905, London, and indeed all England, was shocked, then titillated, by the expulsion of George Archer-Shee from The Royal Naval College at Osborne. The 12-year-old cadet was charged with petty theft, apparently involving the cashing of a 5-shilling note, possibly stolen from another cadet’s locker. Because the government, particularly the Navy, stonewalled and refused to reconsider or allow the matter to be submitted to the courts, the incident became a national scandal.
   British playwright Terence Rattigan took the facts, adapted them liberally to the stage, changing dates and personalities, and called the play The Winslow Boy. The result was a courtroom drama played outside the court setting, examining the mores and manners of the time with considerable cynicism but filled with humor and moral suasion. Shakespeare ’70 is reviving the work at the Studio Theatre of The College of New Jersey; it is a revival that covers the story but loses much of the impact due to lackluster pacing and some badly miscast roles.
   The story is focused on the Winslow family — father, mother, daughter and two sons, the younger of which, Ronnie, is the one in trouble. Aside from the family, we meet the family maid, Violet; John Watherstone, who is courting the daughter, Catherine; and two lawyers, one Desmond Curry, a longtime family friend secretly pining for Catherine, and more importantly, Sir Robert Morton, the high-priced, self-proclaimed most-respected solicitor in the land and a member of Parliament. There is also a scene with a reporter, Miss Barnes, who seems to combine gossip with household hints.
   Since the script is a rare combination of drawing-room and courtroom drama, the dialogue must be fired like so many machine guns, with pauses only for breath or emphasis. Not surprisingly, the cast is inconsistent in accomplishing this. Veterans such as Charles Leeder, who plays the father, and Tom Orr, as Sir Robert, spit the lines out with gusto, gathering laughs and gasps in the wake.
   Likewise, Marianne Ahern, as the reporter, and Curtis Kaine, as the family lawyer, steal moments with familiar ease. Twelve-year-old Sean Geraghty is a genuine delight as Ronnie (that Winslow Boy) with the poise of a longtime actor. But Douglas Hill, as Catherine’s suitor, and Patrick Albanesius, as Ronnie’s older brother, apparently don’t care much about being heard, or understood. First-time director Tracy Hawkins should have picked it up.
   In fact, the entire production lacks energy; it runs close to 25 minutes longer than past stagings, partially a result of bobbled cues and missed lines, but mostly, just pace. A blackout during the recent hurricane didn’t help.
   Douglas Hill’s set design is helpful. No one is credited with the costumes, but Scaramouche, a rental business in Bethlehem, Pa., seems to be responsible, and they are first-rate.
The Winslow Boy continues at the Studio Theatre, Kendall Hall, The College of New Jersey, Route 31, Ewing, through Sept. 28. Performances: Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Tickets cost $12, $10 seniors, $6 students. For information, call (609) 882-5979.