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The Winslow Boy

The Winslow Boy: It’s about your rights

Posted on: October 1st, 2013 by Leah Reddy

 

"The drama of injustice and of a little man's dedication to setting things right seemed to have more pathos and validity just because it involved an inconsequential individual," Terence Rattigan said, referring to George Archer-Shee, inspiration for the title character of The Winslow Boy.

Archer-Shee was only thirteen and just a naval cadet when his family’s epic battle to clear his name began. He was an "inconsequential individual" whose fight for justice against a powerful establishment galvanized the public.

In American history, cases like this have often pitted individual rights against "the public good," as it’s interpreted by those in power at the time. "Let Right Be Done"—the battle cry of The Winslow Boy—resonates across time and cultures.

Take the precedent-setting case of Fred Korematsu, an American of Japanese ancestry who violated Civilian Exclusion Order 34, which banned all Japanese and Japanese-Americans from living on the West Coast, a "Military Area," after May 9, 1942. Korematsu, who was born in the United States, refused to leave his California home and was convicted. He appealed, and his case reached the Supreme Court in 1944.

Korematsu lost his case. Justice Hugo Black spoke for the majority, saying, "all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect" but that "pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions." Korematsu’s rights were outweighed by a need for security in a time of war.

Our city grapples with public cases that pit the rights of individuals against questionable interpretations of "the public good" every day. But who determines the public good, and what happens when "inconsequential individuals" disagree?

In 2003, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Governor George Pataki, and developer Bruce Ratner announced plans to build the Atlantic Yards complex, including the new Barclays Center, in downtown Brooklyn. In order to do this, the state Economic Development Corporation had to declare part of the proposed site blighted and take it through eminent domain. Did the public benefits of the project justify government seizure of private property? Was a sports stadium a public use of the land?

Daniel Goldstein, a homeowner in the footprint of the site, felt that the state was misusing the power of eminent domain to benefit developers. He refused to leave his home and helped found Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a community coalition opposed to the Atlantic Yards. In 2010, after years of legal wrangling, he lost his fight to keep his home. He was awarded $3 million in compensation. Read his post-settlement commentary.

New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy is a hot topic in this year’s mayoral race. This ad, featuring front-runner Bill de Blasio’s son Dante, has been hailed as a "game changer" in the Democratic primary.


The Supreme Court first ruled on this police practice in the 1968 case John W. Terry v. State of Ohio, which held that a cop could search a person without a warrant or without probable cause if the officer had a reasonable belief that the person was armed or dangerous.

By the late 1990s, New York City police were recording over 100,000 such "Terry stops" or stop-and-frisks per year (the actual number of stops was likely much higher). The searches targeted minorities at a rate disproportionate to their share of the general population. By 2011, over 600,000 New Yorkers were being stopped each year.

Was every person stopped because there was a reasonable belief that they may commit a crime? Are the stops a violation of an individual’s 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, or are they a necessary police technique to protect the public?

In 2008 a class action, Floyd et al v. City of New York, was initiated and challenged the legality of stop-and-frisk as practiced by the NYPD. After a two-month, non-jury trial, Judge Shira Scheindlin issued her ruling, which found the NYPD’s stop-and-frisks unconstitutional and ordered a host of new oversight measures for the program. Her 198-page ruling can be summed up in four words: Let Right Be Done.

The individuals change, from a thirteen-year-old British boy to a fifty-year-old African-American New Yorker, but the struggle of an "inconsequential individual" demanding justice, demanding their rights—remains the same.

 


Leah Reddy is an actor, photographer, writer and Teaching Artist at Roundabout Theatre Company.

The Winslow Boy
plays at the American Airlines Theatre through December 1. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

 

 


Related Categories:
2013-2014 Season, The Winslow Boy


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Interview with Set and Costume Designer, Peter McKintosh

Posted on: September 18th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

Ted Sod: Will you tell us about yourself? Where were you born and educated? When did you decide to become a designer?

Peter McKintosh: I was born in Liverpool—let’s just say a long time ago! My mum was an art teacher. I grew up in Devon, England, and then I went to Warwick University and Bristol Vic Theatre School. I've wanted to be a designer since I was a kid. I went on a school trip to London and saw a revival of the original production of Oliver!. It had such a striking and inventive set, and I thought to myself “I don't know what that job is, but whatever it is, that's what I want to do.”

 

The Winslow Boy set design model: Peter McKintosh.

 

TS: As the production designer, what is the first thing you do after you read the play?

PM: After reading the play, I talk to the director. I've worked with Lindsay a lot so our process has become very swift, but that’s only because we have a shared language. We knew that the set for this play should feel very period “real”, but somehow have a modern frame. After we talk, I go away and find some images or do some sketches, and then we start making models. As the designer, you’re responding to the space as well as the details the play throws up in terms of period. The Winslow Boy is quite straightforward because, technically, it is just one living room with another off to the side.

 

TS: Did you have to do a lot of research on the period?

PM: What I love about this play is that it is very “English.” There are a few places in and around London that you can go to see recreations of actual period rooms. We also looked at ground plans of the sort of houses in the play. We obviously had to adhere to the architectural restraints of the period, which would most likely have been Georgian. We found a picture of a house that seemed right to us which showed us all sorts of interesting details, including where the servants would have lived. We also knew that William Morris' work was very fashionable just before the period of the play, so we used his wallpaper. This family wasn't hugely wealthy, but they were aspirational.

Costume Sketch: Peter McKintosh.

Costume Sketch: Peter McKintosh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TS: Will you talk to me about having designed the set for the London production and then having it rebuilt for the production here?

PM: We have brought the original set over from London, but we had to send it back to the workshops first to make some alterations to the proportions. I was nervous about altering the size of the room, but the AA theatre is so much wider than the Old Vic. Actually, it worked out fine. The set you see now is shallower and wider, but hopefully you won't see where the old set and the new bits have been spliced together.

 

TS: You are also designing the costumes. How do you decide what the characters are going to wear?

PM: Rattigan gives us quite a lot of information about clothes, about style, and about appearance. Appearance is very important in this play. Also, we know what a banker wore, we know what a lawyer wore, so that's pretty prescribed. In 1913 people still had their clothes made for them. In the play they talk about not being able to afford new clothes as their money starts to run out. I hope, though, that the costumes don't look like “costumes”, but more just “clothes.”

 

TS: Why do you think it is important for contemporary audiences to see this play?

PM: I think good theatre is transcendent. You don't have to do this play in modern clothes to understand what it's talking about. In fact, if you do it well, it should be a period production that doesn’t feel period. Somebody said, "Do you think audiences will get it; will they get the politics, the school rules, the social structure?" But it is all there in the play. The story shows you what's happening.

 

Roundabout brings The Winslow Boy back to Broadway from September 20 for the first time in 60 years. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2013-2014 Season, The Winslow Boy


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Biography of the Playwright: Terence Rattigan

Posted on: September 18th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

Terence Rattigan, Aunt Edna, and the Detested Play of Ideas

Terence Rattigan is an acclaimed British playwright whose work spanned the middle of the 20th century, when British tastes and politics were changing dramatically. Born in London in 1911 to Frank and Vera Rattigan, an influential diplomat and his wife, Rattigan’s early years were spent in considerable luxury, a lifestyle that would echo in Rattigan’s plays. At age seven, Rattigan fell in love with the theatre after seeing a production of Cinderella. His parents sent him to Sandroyd Prep, where he immersed himself in performing in school plays and neglected his schoolwork.

 

Playwright Terence Rattigan

 

Frank Rattigan was forced into early retirement after a disagreement with one of his superiors, but Rattigan was able to remain in school by winning a scholarship to Harrow, a prestigious prep school. It was at Harrow that the young Rattigan wrote his first scripts, and began his first real love affair, with a correspondent for the Daily Express named Geoffrey Gilbey. Homosexuality was not socially acceptable at the time, but as one of Rattigan’s friends commented, “he never for one moment questioned whether or not he was a homosexual. He just knew he was, and it did not disturb him in the least.”

In 1930, Rattigan won another scholarship, this time to Trinity College, Oxford. He joined the Oxford Drama Society, where he met John Gielgud, a renowned actor, and the two remained friends for many years. In 1933, he premiered his first play, First Episode. After terrible reviews and financial losses, Rattigan left Oxford without a degree. At home, his father agreed to give him a small stipend for two years in order to establish a playwriting career.

After years of professional rejections (during which time he supplemented his income by doctoring scripts for a film company), Rattigan found success when his comedy, French Without Tears, became a hit in London’s West End in 1936, running for over 1,000 performances. But despite the success of the play, Rattigan had not yet hit his stride. None of the plays he put out in the next three years became successful, and he spent increasing amounts of time partying, drinking, gambling, and having affairs. In 1939, coping with depression and severe writer’s block, Rattigan enlisted in the army, serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He returned to writing at the end of his military service, even documenting his wartime experiences in Flare Path, which was a critical success in London.

The late 1940s and early 1950s were Rattigan’s heyday. He enjoyed a series of hits on stage and screen, including The Winslow Boy and The Deep Blue Sea. In his position as an acclaimed dramatist, Rattigan began writing articles and essays on his philosophy of playwriting. In 1953, he created a character he called Aunt Edna, who, in his mind, was the quintessential play-goer. “Aunt Edna,” wrote Rattigan, “does not appreciate Kafka—‘so obscure, my dear, and why always look on the dark side of things?’—she is upset by Picasso ‘those dreadful reds, my dear, and why three noses?’” She is, in other words, “a hopeless lowbrow.” But while novelists and painters can afford to affront Aunt Edna, the playwright never can. “The playwright who has been unfortunate or unwise enough to incur her displeasure, will soon pay a dreadful price. His play, the child of his brain, will wither and die before his eyes.” Aunt Edna, Rattigan concluded, must be heeded, or commercial success is inevitably doomed.

In pursuit of pleasing Aunt Edna, Rattigan pitted himself against the trend of mid-century theatre known as the play of ideas. These were plays that were structured by argument, even concept, rather than plot, like the works of Bertolt Brecht or the late plays of  George Bernard Shaw. Rattigan did not see his plays as plays of ideas, “not necessarily [because] ideas do not sometimes occur to me,” he wrote, “but merely…that I do not think the theatre is the proper place to express them.” In a letter published in the New Statesman and Nation in 1950, Rattigan explained that he didn’t hold with the current perception that “a play which concerns itself with, say, the artificial insemination of human beings or the National Health Service is of necessity worthier of critical esteem than a play about, say, a mother’s relations with her son or about a husband’s jealousy of his wife.”

But in 1956, with the premiere of Look Back in Anger by a brash young playwright named John Osborne, Rattigan (and Aunt Edna) experienced a sudden and devastating fall from grace. Look Back in Anger signaled a drastic change in the tastes of the British public. Suddenly, the things Rattigan had been celebrated for—fine craftsmanship, keen insight—became marks against him. As Rattigan biographer Geoffrey Wansell puts it, “[Rattigan was] abruptly and summarily dismissed as dated and irrelevant, period and precious, the creator of plays that only middle-aged maiden aunts could possibly like or admire. It was a monstrous judgment on his delicate, gentle talent, but the stigma lasted for 30 years.”

Despite his sudden infamy, Rattigan kept writing well into old age. Rattigan was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1971, only the second playwright to be knighted since World War II (Noel Coward being the first) and was diagnosed with Leukemia in the same year. He died at his home in Bermuda in 1977. At the time of his death, two of his plays, Cause Célèbre and Separate Tables were playing successfully in the West End. Rattigan’s works were revived fairly frequently in the latter part of the 20th century but have recently experienced a major resurgence, thanks in part to the celebration of the Rattigan Centenary in 2011. All of Rattigan’s twenty-four plays, even the most obscure ones, were performed across the English-speaking world, where they were recognized as “neglected classics.” Actor Benedict Cumberbatch made a documentary for the BBC which explored Rattigan’s work, concluding with the thesis that “Rattigan’s plays remain some of the most brilliantly written, emotionally powerful social satires of the 20th century.”

 

Roundabout brings The Winslow Boy back to Broadway from September 20 for the first time in 60 years. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2013-2014 Season, The Winslow Boy


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