Tessa Peake-Jones stars in The Winslow Boy at Brighton Theatre Royal

The Winslow Boy
The Winslow Boy

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

The performer is on the road with The Winslow Boy (Brighton Theatre Royal, April 23-28) and she feels that the director Rachel Kavanaugh has done a marvellous job.

“She has cast it very well,” says Tessa. “And she 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.”

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. Set against the values of 1910s Edwardian London, the Winslow family fight to clear his name or face social ostracism. 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’s right back in.

“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.”

Tessa, still known to millions as Raquel in Only Fools and Horses, is loving the tour: “Every theatre we go to is different. You get new crews and new audiences, and you get new feedback. I have really loved everywhere we have gone.”

And inevitably the production has matured along the way.

“I think it is hard to stand outside of something, but I think we are growing as a company still. The family feeling is becoming stronger, and that’s natural.”

Tickets cost £15.90-£36.90.

Call 0844 871 7650 or visit atgtickets.com/venues/theatre-royal-brighton.

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