Review: Winslow Boy, The Old vic

THEATRE
THE WINSLOW BOY
The Old Vic | By Joseph Charlton
*****

When he died in 1977, Terence Rattigan was a man out of tune with his age. The smooth drawing room dramas that made him a star in the forties chimed with neither the kitchen sink realism of the fifties, nor the spirit of radicalism that characterised the sixties. Upset by his poor press, he emigrated to Bermuda, penning plays for the New York stage and lucrative scripts for Hollywood.

Now, 35 years after his death, another American has come to Rattigan’s rescue. Kevin Spacey, itinerant Hollywood star and artistic director of The Old Vic, is not the first to exhume one of Rattigan’s plays, but he may be the first to have done so in such lavish fashion. This production of The Winslow Boy – expertly directed by Lindsay Posner – is a triumph from first to last.

In 1914 Ronnie Winslow (Charlie Rowe) is expelled from school for petty theft. His father Arthur Winslow (majestically played by Henry Goodman) refuses to accept the charges, hiring the best barrister in the country to fight his son’s case.

The real soul of the play, though, resides in its peripheral characters and goings on, both of which receive rich and thorough attention in Posner’s production. Ronnie’s sister, Grace (Deborah Findlay) is an aspiring suffragette, while his brother Dickie (Nick Hendrix) is the quintessential Oxbridge dandy. Both provide insights into themes close to Rattigan’s heart: feminism and class.

Even more resonant with a contemporary audience is The Winslow Boy’s inquest into the place of the media in British politics. While father and son pursue the right for a fair trial they are hounded by the recently invented (1890s and 1900s) tabloid press. More stimulating still is the play’s investigation into the press’s influence in determining the national agenda – topics ready made for a post-Leveson dinner party.

There are no brash tricks or unnecessary ornamentation. Nor does Posner take liberties with the script’s deliberately stuffy period setting. The result may border on over-sentimentalism for some, but ultimately it’s a production that is true to its maker. The voice of Rattigan – subtle and perceptive though it is – is heard loud and clear.

EXHIBITION
DAVID BOWIE IS
V&A | By Alex Dymoke
*****

Performing on Top of the Pops in the 70s, David Bowie projected the avant-garde into teatime living rooms. The essential predecessor to Lady Gaga, it was Bowie who made it normal to be weird. This exhibition takes a panoramic of view of Bowie’s sprawling cultural influence. It honours Bowie the musician, performer, fashion icon, painter and writer, and explores his collaborations with artists and designers across fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film. The quantity and range of material on show is dizzying. The exhibition begins with a shiny black and white striped bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto, the first ever Japanese fashion designer to show in Britain. It ends with a 30ft projection of Bowie performing Heroes to thousands of fans. Don’t worry if you’re not a fan – this exhibition will turn you into one.

THEATRE
STEPTOE AND SON
Lyric Hammersmith | By James Fox
****

Kneehigh theatre and beloved 60s sitcom Steptoe and Son are not a natural fit. The Cornish theatre company usually bases its productions on folk stories and fairytales. Only the half-real world of mythology has room for the imagination of Emma Rice, Kneehigh’s respected artistic director.

The mismatch shows at first. Kneehigh’s trademark musical interludes initially feel forced in the grimy setting of Oil Drum lane. But once the production gathers momentum there’s no stopping it.

Despite experimental elements, the central father and son relationship is preserved. The love that underlies their antagonism is successfully captured. As is the pathos of Harold’s thwarted attempts to forge his own path. Rare moments of tenderness are set to music from the era of the programme. A nice touch. In a standout scene Elvis’s You Were Always On My Mind croons on in the background as Harold helps his father get dressed for a date. A successful blend of newness and nostalgia.

FILM
IDENTITY THIEF
Cert 15 | By Daniel O’Mahony
**

It doesn’t bode well when a film’s basic premise – and main recurring joke – centres on someone having a vaguely unisex name. For all their efforts, Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy can’t save this haphazard and gag-light attempt at the comedy road movie.

But don’t feel too sorry for Bateman. Identity Thief is his baby. He’s acting, producing, and he’s got his old mate Seth Gordon to direct. He even recruited a writer from The Hangover films to do the screenplay. Unfortunately, it’s the writer of the panned sequel rather than the acclaimed original. Bateman should have known better.

So should his character, suburban accounts-man Sandy. After happily giving away his personal details to a complete stranger over the phone, Sandy’s credit cards start getting maxed out. The cops won’t help, so he flies from Colorado to Florida to confront his financial doppelgänger.

There he finds Diana (McCarthy) living the high life at his expense. McCarthy is clearly a talented actress. She tries her darnedest to elevate the film, providing a welcome contrast to Bateman’s typically deadpan performance.

Sandy has to get her back to Denver to prove his innocence, and they hit the road (literally, on more than one occasion). On their way back they meet a range of forgettable, poorly introduced characters. Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet stands out in an otherwise bland supporting cast. A few decent jokes are lost in a poor script. Proof, if ever it was needed, that ID theft is no laughing matter.