In the early days of rehearsals, Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with Roger Rees about his role in The Winslow Boy.
Ted Sod: Why did you choose to play Arthur Winslow?
Roger Rees: It’s a much-loved play all over the world—very affecting, very moving play—I like the play a lot. I said yes. Arthur Winslow is one of the great parts.
TS: And what about Rattigan—had you done any Rattigan plays prior?
RR: Yes, a long time ago I did French Without Tears for the Cambridge Theatre Company, directed by Richard Cottrell, the man who ran the Bristol Old Vic in the UK for so many successful years. He then ran the Cambridge Theatre Company and we toured Great Britain with a company of actors who included Zoe Wanamaker, Dennis Lawson, people like that. Zoe and I played the young lovers.
TS: What are the challenges in playing Rattigan?
RR: Rattigan wrote some very good plays. Well-written plays deserve to be learned from and understood properly, both by actors and audiences alike, and Rattigan’s very human characters help us do that. His words are never sentimental, but his characters are full of sentiment and strength; this consequential build of one word following another, one idea chasing another, makes Rattigan’s writing mind-blowingly smart and deeply moving at one and the same time. For the performer I don’t think any special attention need apply save great diligence and much hard work.
TS: I’m intrigued by the fact that Mr. Winslow decides to take on the establishment to prove his son’s innocence. What do you make of that in this day and age—is that something that people would still be able to do, or is it part and parcel of being English at that time?
RR: Rattigan’s world demanded unwavering trust in principles, loyalty and virtue. At the time of this play—Rattigan was writing this play in 1947 about an incident that took place in 1914—should a boy say he didn’t do something, his father would believe him; a British father would take the defense of his son’s honor to his grave. Rattigan’s values ask too much of us nowadays, perhaps; things have changed. Today art itself has to be both the “Mona Lisa” and the “Real Housewives of New Jersey.” Our truths are different, yes; however, The Winslow Boy is a cautionary reminder that today’s world is one where parents might be persuaded to ask their children to do anything to win. Cheat to win. Lie to win. Do anything you can to win the prize.
TS: And a lot of those values seem to be disappearing—loyalty and truth in our culture—so it’ll be very interesting to see how people respond.
RR: Yes, fashion affects virtue, too; and today there are new values, new loyalties and new truths to explore. This play, The Winslow Boy, deals in generational matters. Arthur Winslow’s “Edwardian values” find themselves challenged by the younger characters as they pursue their own emotions and political issues. Of course, Rattigan, writing after the second great European war, is writing a play which took place just before the first dreadful war, and the playwright writes with the knowledge of what terrible things are going to happen to this next generation and how this society will be broken apart forever.
TS: I know you’re still in the midst of doing table work in rehearsal, but will you talk a little bit about Mr. Winslow’s relationship to his three children?
RR: There are three children: Catherine, Richard, and Ronald. I think Dickie, the middle son, is a bit of a ne’er-do-well, but, even so, Arthur has sent him to Oxford. And the girl, the eldest, Catherine, is educated at home, while she might well have gone to a university, I think. Arthur Winslow’s hopes, therefore, are pinned to the younger son, Ronnie; unusually so, because that’s more often the older son’s prerogative. It means everything to Arthur Winslow that this younger boy shouldn’t be branded before the world as a liar or a forger; attempting to clear the boy’s name takes everything he’s got.
TS: How do you find inspiration as an artist?
RR: I remember playing the Strand Theater in London, performing The Real Thing in its world premiere production. Going home after the play one night, I saw a couple come out of a cheap restaurant near the stage door, the husband was loutish looking, very drunk, behaving badly – but his wife, I guess it was, was hanging on to him, squeezing his arm, overjoyed, and looking like she’d been for a night dining at Buckingham Palace. She was happy; Queen for a night! The difference between them was sad, funny, of course, and completely Chekhovian. It’s things like that. Actors don’t work at the barre as dancers do every day; actors don’t sing their scales every day as singers do; no, actors get drunk a little, get serious a bit, and look at life a lot.
2013-2014 Season, The Winslow Boy