It is with not a little surprise and, indeed, pleasure that I find myself writing a review of a recent stage production. Given that every theatre in the country has closed down it would seem to be a practical impossibility and yet here we are. Modern technology, in the form of video, has ridden to the rescue and so I am able to proceed as if I had attended the venue itself and seen the drama unfold.
The piece in question is The Dock Brief, the first play written by eminent lawyer and creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, John Mortimer. It’s a simple enough tale of a hen-pecked husband accused of murder and an incompetent lawyer who is briefed to defend the accused. The two meet in the cells, discuss the case and plan a strategy. Morgenhall, the lawyer, has delusions of grandeur about how he is going to take the legal world by storm when the sad fact is nobody generally wants to employ him. Fowle, the accused, is a somewhat mousey man driven to distraction by his wife who just wants the whole business of the trial over with as soon as possible. The two men are united by their inadequacies yet in the aftermath of the trial gradually form a bond of friendship.
The production (played originally before the pandemic interruption at the Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone) is staged extremely simply with no scenery and the minimum of furniture/props. It is left to the two actors Matthew Vernon (Morgenhall) and Kingsley Glover (Fowle) to carry the piece and they are undoubtedly successful in doing so. The interplay between them is the bedrock of the drama which although there are serious undertones is generally played for the comedy it contains. Some scenes put me in mind of the old Mel Smith/Griff Rhys Jones head to head sketches and the two actors have clearly established a rapport as Morgenhall pulls the strings and Fowle becomes a whole array of characters appearing in his brief’s deluded courtroom fantasy.
Vernon’s slightly bumptious lawyer is clearly masking a fear of failure and his verbal flights are well managed and delivered. A clear link between the business of appearing on a stage and holding forth in a courtroom is cleverly shown by Vernon’s characterisation as he cajoles his client into rehearsing the scenes he imagines will be played out during the trial. Glover’s subtle approach to his character who starts off self-effacing but grows in confidence provides an excellent foil and despite his being a murderer we find ourselves rooting for him.
The play, directed by David Tudor, has generally good pace and the space, given that it represents a confined cell, is put to satisfactory use. The static camera used to record the piece meant that the usual element of viewer choice and focus was perforce missing but, in the circumstances, this was to be expected. It was also unfortunate that the lighting sometimes glared and obscured the actors’ faces – again I’m sure if the team had had more time this would have been rectified.
With most of us having a great deal of time on our hands at the moment the irony of a play set in a prison cell was not lost on me. It is great that the production has been enterprising enough to record the play before the shutters came down on the country and you could do worse than give the video a watch as a way of supporting the industry through the current crisis and, indeed, for some light relief from your own incarceration.
The embed code which would have taken readers to the video performance on You Tube has been removed at the request of the production.