The Dock Brief from Rapture Theatre at Assembly Roxy Edinburgh this afternoon was my first experience of the “Rapture Bites Classic lunchtime theatre” format, and an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so in the early afternoon.
This work, written by John Mortimer (probably best known for his creation of Rumpole of The Bailey), was first performed on stage in 1958, but was originally written as a radio play and performed the previous year in 1957, and with capital punishment for murder and a very clearly divided class system, this work is very much a period piece of its time.
The play takes its name, The Dock Brief, from the English legal system of the time when prior to the introduction of Legal Aid, an accused person without a solicitor could choose a barrister of their choice if they were sitting for selection in court whilst fully gowned.
This then is how Herbert Fowle (Glyn Pritchard), accused of murdering his wife because she laughed too much, meets his a court-appointed defence barrister Morgenhall (John Bett). Rather worryingly to the audience at least, but not it seems to Fowle, his barrister has never actually won a case, and what follows is a gentle comedy on the inept and at times almost farcical nature of the legal system itself whilst at the same time exploring the obvious issues of perceived class and educational differences between the barrister and his client.
Directed by Lyn McAndrew, there is much to admire in this work that seems to belong to a far gentler time where a solid script, gentle humour, and no bad language were the order of the day in most broadcast and staged productions. This seems to be a format that suits our two actors well too as Glyn Pritchard and John Bett were not only enjoying this script as much as many of the audience this afternoon, but there was also that humour of working together between them that roles like this have to have to work properly. At times, there was almost, despite the gravity of the situation, a childish sense of play here as an inept barrister obviously needs the support of his client more than his client needed him. Both men here seem to have happily accepted that life has not given them their dreams, but whilst Herbert Fowle has come to accept his fate, his barrister, Morgenhall is still, in his mind at least, playing out on the stage of his mind a life of enormous success.
This was theatre working at its most basic and, for me, interesting level with nothing but a simple set and two skilled performers working their craft to a very close at hand audience.
I do ask myself, however, if in the wider spectrum of things a play about a man charged with murder for killing his wife for simply laughing too much over the years would even be made today in our current and correct re-evaluation of domestic violence towards women? I have to be fair to this work and say that it does not appear to be condoning this violence, but using the absurdity of a legal system to deal properly with this and many other areas of the law.
This was, as I have said, my first experience of “Rapture Bites Classic lunchtime theatre” format, and the opportunity, if you wanted, to have a light lunch before the show, and to stay after the show for Q & As with the director and actors whilst enjoying coffee and cake, is an interesting way to try and break down barriers between an audience and what is happening on stage. Rapture Theatre are making great efforts to de-mystify the whole experience of going to the theatre to see a play, to make everything as informal and accessible as possible, and this work is just as important as anything that is taking place on stage.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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