by Terence Frisby.
Tour to 10 November 2012.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 September at Richmond Theatre.
Caught in a courtroom dilemma.
There’s a central dilemma to Terence Frisby’s 1994 courtroom drama, revived with über-affable Tom Conti in the role of a TV campaigner for justice in the dock for the admitted killing of his 9-month old, severely brain-damaged child. It’s a dilemma Frisby’s well aware of; he draws attention to it in his interesting programme note. And it’s both the strength and difficulty of his play.
For the case itself absorbs audience interest, being emotionally strong and having headline-type immediacy. And Frisby throws in a googly or two – the main one in the second act, though it was anticipated among audience conversation during the interval at Richmond.
If he’s not sentimental over the outcome, that’s because the author has little faith in British justice. As his note explains, he has previous on this, and the real concern in Rough Justice is precisely what the title says, arguing that juries should decide law as well as sift evidence. It puts the piece less in the forensic tradition of trial-drama, more in the area of A P Herbert, though with little of that awkward-squad eccentric’s humour (Herbert’s eternal litigant was called Albert Haddock).
Especially when played by Conti, but probably with most casting, an audience will side with an underdog fighting his own case, who owns-up to a well-intentioned crime, so sympathies are allotted early on. Only an actor with a cold persona might counter this, and they’d be unlikely to help the box-office receipts. So Highwood has an easy ride with audiences.
The author clearly knows his way around the territory, but behind-the-chair talks between the two sides point to what most people would regard as the best way to resolve problems. For all his plausibility, Highwood is determined to push a legal theory that will do no-one – himself, his wife or children – any good.
The out-of-court scenes are unconvincing; characters are bound by discussing the author’s idea, not helped by some clunky scenery moves.
The courtroom examinations hold more interest, with Royce Mills’ judge, speaking with the silky-voiced control peculiar to silks, holding matters together despite the combustible Highwood’s ill-judged interruptions.
James Highwood: Tom Conti.
Margaret Casely: Elizabeth Payne.
Judge: Royce Mills.
Jean Highwood: Carol Starks.
Jeremy Ackroyd: David Michaels.
Dr Simon Kerr: Simon M urray.
Dr Hannah Radzinski: Mary Lincoln.
PC Ramsden: Shaun Morton.
Director: James Larkin.
Designer: Janet Bird.
Lighting: Tim Speechley.
Sound: John Leonard.