A LETTER FROM LONDON: Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in Peter and Alice, Henry Goodman in The Winslow Boy and More

By Ruth Leon
22 Apr 2013

Charlie Rowe and Henry Goodman in The Winslow Boy.
Photo by Nobby Clarke

As they try to find their lost childhoods they appeal to their literary fathers (Nicholas Farrell as Lewis Carroll and Derek Riddell as J.M. Barrie) and their imaginary younger selves (Olly Alexander and Ruby Bentall). Throughout, Logan, through his characters, is excavating truth from fantasy, fiction from non-fiction, and asking the question, "Can something be true without being real?" In Peter and Alice, the most poignant line comes from Mrs. Hargreaves as she extends, finally, a hand to Mr. Davies, "Take my hand," she offers, "I know the way to Wonderland." He can't, and he will never find it again.

Peter and Alice is the second production in the first season of the Michael Grandage Company, so far wildly successful, with a cast, as they say, to die for. Later we get Daniel Radcliffe in Martin McDonagh's bleakly, blackly funny The Cripple of Inishmaan, this year's Hedda Gabler; Sheridan Smith with David Walliams in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream; and Jude Law as Henry V. The first was a stunning, and stunningly funny, production of Peter Nichols' Privates on Parade starring the inimitable Simon Russell Beale, which won all possible awards. If Grandage continues as he's started, this is going to be the theatrical year of the century.

Terence Rattigan may have been overlooked for years in the wake of the "Angry Young Men" plays, considered old-fashioned, and miserable about his sexuality, but he wrote some wonderful plays and, in a way, it is only now that we are beginning to appreciate the contribution he made to the theatrical literature with The Browning Version, Man and Boy, The Deep Blue Sea, Separate Tables, and many others; perhaps most of all by the one currently at the Old Vic, The Winslow Boy. He wrote, perhaps better than any other playwright except Shakespeare, about the relationships between men—brothers, fathers, and sons; older and younger; even friends, although there are no gay characters in his plays.

Rattigan believed in craftsmanship, in making plays which would stand the test of time, and in The Winslow Boy, he took the true story of the boy who may, or may not, have stolen a five shilling postal order from a schoolmate at his military school, to examine the whole question of male identity and its confusion at different ages and what it means to be a man. It is, after all, only about a boy from a privileged home and his father's insistence on vindicating him from this petty charge, which grows into a major court case, complete with defense from a Queen's Council barrister. The case not only impoverishes his family but also reveals Rattigan's central concern with human rights and his belief in justice at all costs.

He was a marvel of a playwright, in this case matched by Lindsay Posner's production and Henry Goodman's performance as the father in tandem with Peter Sullivan's as the QC.

(Ruth Leon is a London and New York City arts writer and critic whose work has been seen in Playbill magazine and other publications.)

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