ROUNDABOUT BLOG

The Winslow Boy

Interview with Actor, Roger Rees

Posted on: September 18th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

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.

 

Roger Rees in rehearsal for The Winslow Boy. Photo by Jenny Anderson.


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.

 

Roger Rees (Arthur Winslow) with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Grace Winslow) and Spencer Davis Milford (Ronnie Winslow). Photo by Jenny Anderson.

 

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.

 

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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Interview with Director, Lindsay Posner

Posted on: September 12th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

During rehearsals for The Winslow BoyEducation Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with Director Lindsay Posner about his thoughts on the play. 

Ted Sod: I’m very curious. You started as an actor. You were trained at the Royal Academy and then, not very long after you graduated you became a director. How did that happen?

Lindsay Posner: Well, I was at university before going to RADA, where I did an English degree, and I acted and directed at university. It was always in my head that I wanted to do both, and I was given a place at RADA and a very receptive principal called Hugh Crutwell there said, “If we give you a place at RADA, do you promise never to direct?” and of course I said yes.

While I was there, I realized that my talent really was for directing more than acting. I could act a bit, but I sensed that being an outside eye and wanting to do the whole play, production, was more my inclination and talent, actually. And they let me start directing before I left. I did one or two shows and then I left. I did one acting job and went on to directing immediately after that.

 

Director Lindsay Posner with Alessandro Nivola (Sir Robert Morton).
Photo by Jenny Anderson.

 

TS: Did you always have an interest in newer work at that time, or were you interested in the classics? Because you have really done everything...

LP: To be honest, as is the case with most directors, you take opportunities where they arise when you’re very young and just starting out. I had interest in both, and the Royal Court was a fantastic place to begin because it’s the perfect apprenticeship, really. And when you’re through your twenties, coming into contact with great senior writers like Pinter or Caryl Churchill or Mamet, it’s a great education.

 

TS: What attracted you to this particular play?

LP: A few things really. I mean, first of all, I think it’s a great play and there aren’t that many great plays. It is both a great family play and it’s entertaining. It’s also a political play with political resonance. I always look for relevance in a play, or a play that I feel will be accessible to a contemporary audience when I read it. And this is particularly relevant in terms of what’s happening with individual liberty and responsibility and justice. We can make all sorts of contemporary references when we see it.

Also, the greatness of it is that the characters are so finely, beautifully written with complex psychological portraits. It’s always great to work on a really rich play that has such rich psychological detail in it.

 

Lindsay Posner with Spencer Davis Milford (Ronnie Winslow) and Roger Rees (Arthur Winslow).
Photo by Jenny Anderson.

 

TS: You first directed the play at The Old Vic in London last season. What are the challenges in remounting this production in America?

LP: Well, one of the immediate concerns for me is that I was very nervous. I didn’t just want it to be a rehash of what I’d already done because that’s not creative. So I’m approaching it as if I hadn’t done it already, and I’m finding that very joyful.

Of course, I know the answers to some of the questions I’m asking, but I’m exploring it along with an actor, a completely fresh group of people with a completely different chemistry in the room, which is exciting. And already there are things I’m thinking about in a slightly different way from the way it had happened first time round. So actually, it’s very rewarding for me.

 

TS: When I interviewed set and costume designer Peter McKintosh, he said it was a thoroughly English play. Do you feel that way?

LP: I think it is a thoroughly English play. It’s very much about the British class system and the way that affects social behavior. And it’s also about the way people repress their feelings in middle class British families; upper-middle class families don’t say exactly what they mean a lot of the time, which, clearly, isn’t so much the case in New York.

 

Zachary Booth (Dickie Winslow) and Lindsay Posner.
Photo by Jenny Anderson.

 

TS: Do you think that part of the popularity of this play in Britain is because its central idea of “Let Right Be Done” and the Petition of Right really in some way says that the Crown is not above the law?

LP: It does. I mean, that’s always been the case. But, I think there’s a kind of zeitgeist feel for the British recently that hasn’t always been the case with Rattigan. Actually Rattigan’s not been that fashionable with British audiences. Now he’s being regarded as a great writer by the British critics but he was often regarded as a bit of a boulevard writer and his star waned in the fifties when the kitchen sink writers of Osborne, Wesker, and the Royal Court writers actually gained prominence. Rattigan was always writing very fine plays, but he went out of fashion for that reason, which was a tragedy.

 

TS: And critic Kenneth Tynan was very cruel to him.

LP: Indeed, that’s true. He said his preoccupations were outdated, you know, they were middle-class, upper-bourgeois preoccupations, which was very unfair in some ways. But I think this really taps into the fact that the British public opinion states intervention without redress, whether it’s details that are being got from the internet about people’s lives or people being detained for questioning about potential terrorism without any redress.

All these things are very personal at the moment and are absolutely what this play is about in some ways. And I think it’s that that’s made it relevant to an audience and I think hopefully will make it relevant to a New York audience as well.

 

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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The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan, directed by Lindsay Posner begins previews September 20 at the American Airlines Theatre and is the first production in our 2013-2014 Season.

You may already know of my affection for the work of Rattigan, whose Man and Boy we revived in 2011 at this same theatre. Although he is arguably one of the strongest voices in the British theatre to come out of the mid-20th century, Rattigan has never enjoyed the same acclaim as contemporaries like Noel Coward or, in America, Tennessee Williams. While these writers have continued to have their work performed on stages large and small with great frequency, Rattigan spent decades being neglected, and it is only in the past few years that he is having a well-deserved resurgence.

The Winslow Boy captures everything that I love about Rattigan’s writing. He is known for creating extremely deep and detailed characters, writing in a beautifully naturalistic style, and crafting his plays with a strong sense of structure. You’ll see all of these elements at play in The Winslow Boy, as well as the kind of subtle emotional currents that Rattigan so elegantly places deep within. This notion of keeping emotions roiling beneath the surface is, for me, one of the great assets of Rattigan’s plays, but it’s also what led to his fall from critical and popular favor. While Rattigan continued to write about the quiet dramas of the upper and middle classes he knew well, a new generation of brash young playwrights came along to shake things up and put the working class on stage. John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (revived here at Roundabout in 2012) marked a major turning point, as the stiff upper lip characters of Rattigan were blasted aside by Osborne’s new idea of the “angry young man” taking over the theatre.

It’s truly a shame that it’s taken us so long to realize that there is room for both of these sensibilities. While the wild energy of Osborne and those of his ilk certainly makes for an exciting ride, these stories don’t eliminate the need for others that are more reserved but equally deep in their impact. Because it has taken so long for these dueling tones to be reconciled, plays like The Winslow Boy have languished without reexamination for far too long.

This is a play that takes on one of the thorniest questions out there: What does it mean to do the “right” thing? The story brings up questions of justice, both legal and moral, of family loyalty, both generously given and unwillingly received, and of individual rights, both due to the self and in conflict with the larger society.

Interestingly, The Winslow Boy is one of a few plays that Rattigan based on real events. While the play was first seen on stage in 1946, it is based on a court case that took place pre-World War I, and the play is set in that same period. Rattigan wanted to write a play about British justice, and he felt that he could explore the issue more fully by placing the events in a more innocent time, before the country was deeply affected by two devastating wars. This was a time when the tale of a cadet accused of stealing a postal order could still make front page news, so Rattigan took the story of the real cadet George Archer-Shee and turned him into Ronnie Winslow, whose alleged misdeed sets off the chain of events that will eventually take him to the highest court in all of England.

It’s a juicy and fascinating story, populated by incredibly memorable characters. I think that, when you have seen The Winslow Boy, you’ll find yourself right alongside me in wondering how a writer like Rattigan could be ignored for so long. I hope you will share your thoughts on this playwright and this play by emailing me at artisticoffice@roundabouttheatre.org. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback each season. Please keep it coming.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

Sincerely,

Todd Haimes
Artistic Director


Related Categories:
2013-2014 Season, The Winslow Boy


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