Ronnie Winslow is a naval cadet who is expelled for stealing a small amount of money, a charge he always denies. His father decides that he cannot let the matter rest and he spends all his money on procuring the best barrister in the country to fight the case, to make sure that Right Be Done. However, the play also begs the question as to how far one should go in pursuit of one’s ideals. The older son has to give up his studies and take a job at the bank, from which perspective the chance to go off and fight in a war seems infinitely attractive. The suffragette daughter loses her fiancé and may have to settle for marriage to a man she does not love. Mother feels that they have lost the happiness they once had as a family. Father visibly ages during the course of events and, at the end, is an old man confined to a bath chair. And Ronnie himself? He has moved on and is very happy at an ordinary school – so who or what was the fight for?
The play is set in the period just before WWI and seems curiously stilted at first. All the acts take place in one room (though months apart) with external events (such as the trial itself) narrated by the various characters. The play may be about justice but it is also the human story of a fairly ordinary family placed in an extraordinary situation. Lovers and siblings bicker gently, father complains about the modern music – what’s new?! It is also a very funny play, not nearly as bleak as the plot implies. What is interesting, too, is that it does not showcase one particular part. Timothy West as the determined yet not dogmatic father is magnificent but Adrian Lukis as Sir Robert Morton is also excellent, as are all the others, notably Diane Fletcher as the wife and Claire Cox as the daughter. Sarah Flind is great fun as the slightly embarrassing maid.
Move beyond the slightly formal setting and you have a play which tells some truths about right and wrong but also talks about humanity. It still has something to say to us today yet it is told lightly and with humour.