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The Winslow Boy review at Chichester Festival Theatre – ‘a tension-less revival’

Aden Gillett and Misha Butler in The Winslow Boy at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Alastair Muir Aden Gillett and Misha Butler in The Winslow Boy at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Alastair Muir
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The centenary of the women’s vote is presumably the hook for this touring revival of one of Terence Rattigan’s best-known plays.

Among the lives derailed by the father’s fight to clear his son’s name is that of the sister, Catherine: a radical, a suffragette and – more to the point for Edwardian London – a single woman pushing 30. Dorothea Myer-Bennett is natural and spirited as the Winslow Girl, who sits up late stuffing sandwiches on the chaise as she catches dad up on the day in Parliament.

But Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is largely a dull and tension-less affair, in which you hear about big decisions being made but rarely feel them. Much of this may be the fault of Michael Taylor’s set design, a spacious right-angle of drawing room that works against Rattigan’s family portrait of precariously interdependent lives, and different generations trying to dance their own dance. The actors often have to stand at a curious distance from one another, as if they’re communicating via yogurt pots and string.

Aden Gillett tries to work with this distance as the father progressively crushed and isolated by his own campaign. But Tess Peake-Jones, as his wife, is locked in Cranchesterford-style caricature.

The Archers star Timothy Watson delivers a solid slab of courtroom drama before the interval, as the celebrated barrister who stoops to take the case. But for a play about where we choose to spend our personal energy, and how that impacts on others, this feels seriously underpowered. In the end you rather sympathise with young Ronnie Winslow, who has spent verdict day at the pictures.

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A tension-less Rattigan revival serves the suffragette centenary but suffers from an unhelpful set design