The Old Vic Theatre in London first opened in 1888, and today it stands as one of the most well known theaters in the world. Between March 8 and May 25, The Old Vic is showing “The Winslow Boy.” Next week, halfway across the world from The Old Vic, Northwestern’s theater department will also perform “The Winslow Boy” in the England Theatre of the DeWitt Theatre Arts Center.
“The Winslow Boy” takes place from July 1912 through June 1914 and is broken up into four acts, each of which is separated by anywhere from five to nine months. Set in pre-World War I London, the drama tells the story of the Winslow family. The youngest child, Ronnie, is accused of stealing a five-shilling postal note, which results in his dismissal from the Royal Naval Academy.
Ronnie insists to his father Arthur that he is innocent, so the family hires well-known attorney Sir Robert Morton to clear Ronnie’s name.
As a result of the trial and the amount of time that it takes to be resolved, a fair amount of tension forms between characters, especially those in the family. NW theater professor Jeff Taylor, director of “The Winslow Boy,” describes the family as being full of love but with many layers of tension.
“I guess it’s like normal families,” Taylor said.
Taylor said that although the drama is set during a very different time period than today, the audience is still able to relate to struggles the family has and how they experience those struggles and tensions together. The drama is serious and the characters complex.
One of the central characters is daughter Catherine, played by senior theater major Abigail Bierly. Catherine “is quite radical for her time period, as she is a suffragette and a major force in supporting the Winslow case in her family,” Bierly said of her character. Figuring out how to best portray this multilayered character has been one of the biggest challenges for Bierly, who described it as “a learning experience.”
Jana Latchaw, who plays 14-year old Ronnie Winslow, has had an entirely different challenge in learning how to best portray her character.
“Playing the opposite sex is pretty difficult for me,” Latchaw said. “I tend to stand with my feet together, and that needed to leave completely for this role.”
In order to better play her part, Latchaw has been watching movies that star boys around Ronnie’s age so she can mirror their movements and mannerisms.
“The Winslow Boy” is set in London, so the entire cast has been struggling together to perfect and unify their Old English accents. Taylor even brought in freshman Koray Karakas, who is from London, to help cast members with the dialect. Both Bierly and Latchaw said the voice change has been difficult but that it is one more reason why “The Winslow Boy” will be entertaining for audiences.
Along with the accent, Bierly and junior theater major Katie Shepard, who plays Catherine’s mother, Grace, have been wearing corsets during rehearsals to get used to their performance outfits. The corsets force them into their character’s posture.
“I think the corset has helped me get into character more,” Bierly said.
Other cast members in “The Winslow Boy” include sophomore Alex Benson, who plays Arthur Winslow, the father, who suffers from severe arthritis. Senior Jordan Starkenburg plays Ronnie and Catherine’s brother Dickie, sophomore Jacob Christiansen plays Sir Robert Morton, and senior Tiemen Godwaldt plays Desmond Curry, the Winslow family lawyer who is in love with Catherine.
“This is a play that shows family dynamics and how things that happen in the world affect how the family relates to one another,” Bierly said.
Family is something that everyone can relate to, which is why both Taylor and Bierly believe “The Winslow Boy” will be enjoyable for all audiences. Although the plot is serious, plenty of comic relief is included in the script.
Audiences in both the DeWitt Theatre Arts Center and the Old Vic Theatre can go back in time with “The Winslow Boy” and experience the cultural challenges produced in London in the early 1900s.