Have you ever been wrongly accused of something but prevented from proving your innocence?
That’s what happens to 14-year old Ronnie Wilson when he’s accused of stealing a five-shilling postal order, and expelled from a British naval college.
Based on a true story that took place shortly before the First World War, The Winslow Boy is a story about a family’s fight for justice. But they’re pitted against the government and the rigid rules and class systems of their time.
“One hundred years later we still have the same problems,” says Bill Walton, director of the Courtenay Little Theatre production. “There are still arrogant governments who disrespect the people they are supposed to represent.”
Courtenay Little Theatre will present The Winslow Boy at the Sid Williams Theatre from April 11 to 13 and 18 to 20. All performances take place at 7:30 p.m. except for a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, April 13.
“The play is exceptionally well constructed for the stage,” explains Walton who suggested the drama for CLT’s spring performance. “It has peaks and troughs that lead to a climax at the end of each act. Terrance Rattigan is a terrific playwright.”
While the Winslow family nearly goes bankrupt in an attempt to save Ronnie’s honour, his sister becomes involved in the suffragette movement. But despite the serious subject matter, moments of humour and romance lighten the tension.
“There are a few amusing characters,” says Walton. “Ronnie’s older brother, Dickie, is a student at Oxford but knows more about horses than his school books. The maid and woman newspaper reporter are quite funny, too.”
Although the story is based on a real incident, Rattigan considered the original characters too dull, so he created his own to give the play some punch. And the CLT version presents an interesting twist to those on stage.
“We auditioned right after Courtenay Little Theatre’s big Christmas panto and didn’t get as many people as we thought we would,” says Walton. “But what we did get was some very talented young actors. In fact, we got three 14-year olds but only needed one to play the part of Ronnie.”
“So a few characters will play outside their age range,” he adds. “It’s always tougher to play someone older and we’ll need some good makeup to make them look the part. But they’re so talented and enthusiastic that it is not a problem at all.”
Walton joined CLT when he moved to Black Creek from Kamloops in 2005. As well as liking the story of The Winslow boy and the well-crafted script, he’s appeared in it twice.
“I’ve been involved in theatre since I was a teen,” he says. “My first role was Dickie Winslow when I was 18. I was one of those Billy Elliotts in that I was recommended to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in England. But when I went home to the mining village I grew up in to tell my father he said, ‘Forget it, lad, we’re not having any bloody poofs in our family!’
“That was the general feeling about arts and the theatre at the time,” continues Walton. “My dad attended all my performances but didn’t want to have to explain his son to his friends if I took it up as a career. I didn’t have the guts of Billy Elliott, so worked for a while as an accountant and banker.”
But after he’d saved some money, Walton went to art college, eventually becoming the chair of Visual and Performing Arts at Thompson University in Kamloops. And he always kept in touch with the theatre world.
“I think the job of actors and directors is to observe people and always be making mental notes about how to use what they see,” he says. “As a director I try to give the play a certain path to follow. Every play should have an expression put to it. A good play like The Winslow Boy has a lot of expression and it’s up to the director to pick that up and encourage the actors to change the mood, volume and pace of things to bring out the characters and add drama and excitement.”
As well as entertaining local audiences, The Winslow Boy will also be CLT’s entry in the North Island Zone Drama Festival this May.
For more information or to purchase tickets visit the Sid Williams Theatre at www.sidwilliamstheatre.com or 442 Cliffe Ave. in Courtenay or phone 250-338-2430 ext. 1.
Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record’s arts and entertainment section.