The Winslow Boy in Brighton

Audiences are loving it, says Tessa Peake-Jones. They come expecting one thing, which they get. But they also get something else.

The Winslow Boy
The Winslow Boy

“It is a really great production,” says Tessa, who is on the road with The Winslow Boy (Brighton Theatre Royal, April 23-28). “(Director) Rachel Kavanaugh has done a marvellous job. She has cast it very well and has been very supportive, encouraging us to bring to it what we can offer.

“But the great thing is that she hasn’t just highlighted the emotional side. She has also brought out the comedy. We have people coming up to us saying they just didn’t realise how funny it was. And it is. It is really, really funny. And that surprises people. They come thinking they know what they are going to get, and they get it, but they are also getting the comedy on top.”

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Tessa is Grace Winslow to Aden Gillett’s Arthur Winslow, a man on a mission. After young cadet Ronnie Winslow is expelled from the Royal Naval College for stealing a five-shilling postal order, his entire family is pulled apart by the repercussions of the charge. The Winslow family fight to clear his name or face social ostracism as the case becomes a national scandal, but while Arthur Winslow is unswerving in his quest, Grace can see the damage it is doing.

“My character understands why he is doing what he is doing and she supports him, but at the same time she can see all the knock-on effects, and she is very torn. My character understands the words and the actions, but you see the real impact on the family too. And that is the brilliance of Rattigan. He makes you see both sides of it.

“When I first read it, I didn’t see the relevance. I just thought what a great play and what a great thing to be part of it. But now everyone is saying it is so relevant, and that is fantastic – for Rattigan! It is about doing what is right rather than doing justice. It is about the little man or the little woman standing up against the big conglomeration taking over, and we are certainly seeing plenty of that in the world right now.”

All of which underlines the fact that The Winslow Boy is a classic. Rattigan was completely out of fashion; now he is right back in.

As Tessa, still known to millions as Raquel in the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses, says: “It’s extraordinary how it happens. Things have their day and then they fade away and when their time is right, they come back. You see it with clothing and fashion and humour. Everything comes back, and over the past few years it has been Rattigan’s time again. And it is interesting: all the people that pushed him out of fashion, like John Osborne, are completely out of fashion now, but you know that in a few years time, they will be back again.”

For other stories by Phil, see: