THEATRE / A bad, bad boy: Rhoda Koenig reviews Wyn Jones's The Winslow Boy at the Globe

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Apart from its dedication (to the son of Terence Rattigan's lover Chips Channon), The Winslow Boy would seem to have nothing to do with its author's tortured homosexuality. Yet, near the end of this sturdy little hymn to father-love and British justice comes a scene so disturbingly passionate that one can't help wondering about its inspiration.

After the Winslows have suffered two years of ill- health and penury in an attempt to clear their younger son of a charge of petty theft, the court is on the point of reaching a verdict. Alone with the Winslow daughter, the stodgy family solicitor proposes marriage. What beginsas a businesslike proposition becomes a romantic and increasingly desperate one, as the older man struggles with the limits of his expressiveness. Given the chance to play something more than a cardboard cut-out at the British Empire Exhibition, Ian Thompson grasped his opportunity, and was rewarded by loud applause from an audience startled at having finally seen some acting.

Otherwise, however, Wyn Jones's dismal production of the 1946 play exposes the holes in its tatty psychology. Why, for instance, are Arthur Winslow's wife and children terrified of him? Though a stern judge, he is never unreasonable and often ineffectual. Why has such a serious man married a ninny (all the female characters are afflicted with a repellent triviality), and why is there a seven-year gap after the birth of each child? (For plot purposes, one assumes, but the marital difficulties this suggests cannot be ignored.) Is Winslow, as his wife charges, driven not by principle but by egomania? She is quickly seen off, but the question hovers. The play might be less a simplistic drama of the virtuous underdog triumphant if it acknowledged that worthy actions could result from dubious motives.

Thompson apart, the dull-to-worse cast includes Peter Barkworth as Winslow (dodders); Nyree Dawn Porter as his wife (twitters); and Simon Williams as the brilliant silk who saves the day (shows left profile, then right). The worst is Eve Matheson, who, as the daughter, has all the charm of a speak-your-weight machine addressing a public meeting. Mark Bailey's set looks like the bottom of a well, and his costumes like something one would find there.

To 22 Oct, at the Globe, London W1 (071-494-5065)

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