There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience.
It supersedes all other courts.
From the start of this courtroom drama until at least the interval the audience are asked either by default or design to give their verdict on matters that one would have hoped would have been self-evident. The main dilemma was whether it was a drama or a tragicomedy. In the theatres of ancient Greece there was always a distinction between drama and comedy but this was a contemporary production and for most of the first half one was left wondering what genre of theatre it was.
Certainly the subject matter could not have been more dramatic, James Highwood (Tom Conti) is the father in the dock, facing a murder or manslaughter charge, for killing his brain-damaged infant and decides to defend himself against a rampant and searching prosecution, Margaret Casely played by Elizabeth Payne.
But then, what is this, wise-cracks sparsely littered the case for the prosecution as if the defendant and the prosecution were determined to outdo each other on the laughter stakes but not enough it would seem for it to be judged a tragi-comedy or comedy but enough at least to unsettle the belief in it being a truly dramatic experience.
The evidence was rendered more vague by some of the acting, or were the actors hamming on purpose to enforce the belief that it needed not to be taken too seriously. Certainly many theatres had witnessed better performances from Tom Conti, one of the best actors of contemporary theatre of our time, but we were only half way through the production. Will one see a difference in the second half?
The audience interval talk did not so much centre round what the ‘plot’ was, but more on the periphery typified by one lady who was heard to remark what a good covering of hair Tom Conti has. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that both his parents were hairdressers some wag replied! Certainly over the years that aspect of his looks hasn’t changed, apart perhaps for the colour.
The half-time team talk appeared to do the trick, straight from the re-start the actors played blinders. Emotions were played out with depth of feeling, Miss Casey became less strident and more in control of her brief and Ackroyd, Highwood’s solicitor, played by David Michaels who bore an uncanny resemblance to Barnaby’s ever-faithful side-kick from Midsomer Murders, came into his own as the central comic character. More was also seen from Highwood’s wife, Jean, played by Carol Starks, who became a compelling character the more the play unravelled. From a play that many would not have comprehended in the first half was transformed into an absorbing and engaging collection of related scenarios leading to the summing-ups, which were excellently delivered by the prosecution, defence and judge.
Special mention should be made about the performance of Ben Whitrow as the judge, who showed all the right attributes including patience, wisdom, courage, firmness, alertness, incorruptibility and the gifts of sympathy and insight. His was a masterfully understated performance that was a constant delight throughout.
By now the overwhelming majority of the audience had delivered its verdict on the play as an overwhelming success but what was the verdict delivered by the jury, may be in the final analysis when you decide what that should be is it worth remembering what Mahatma Gandhi said, it’s your decision?
Make sure you make that known before you leave
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