Writer: Terence Frisby
Director: James Larkin
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
The Public Reviews Rating:
At Milton Keynes Theatre this week there were courtroom thrills aplenty in Terence Frisby’s Rough Justice, not Agatha Christie style but certainly full of drama and suspense, and some twists. A very different ‘dish’ from the comic There’s A Girl In My Soup, the well-known and acclaimed piece by the same author, Frisby wrote this courtroom drama after having been caught up in a civil law case for a number of years, part of which time he spent as a litigant and as his own lawyer. His experiences in that court case were translated directly into this play.
In Rough Justice, veteran actor Tom Conti, recently seen in The Dark Knight Rises, plays a television journalist, James Highwood, whose lifework has been to challenge the British system of justice in his TV documentaries. However, in a sudden role reversal Highwood finds that the system is challenging him as he is summoned to court to answer a murder charge, that of smothering his own nine month old baby! He pleads guilty to the killing but makes the odd decision to represent himself, thereby testing the patience of the court particularly by putting over his defence statements in such a challenging manner that it seems he is deliberately attempting to wind up the judge. Not a good move … but Highwood believes in the impartiality and intelligence of the jury. Public opinion, however, has already decided that Highwood is a callous murderer who cruelly suffocated his son.
Conti, who is most famous for his performance in the highly successful Whose Life is It Anyway? plays the role of Highwood to perfection, even if he does stumble on his lines at times (not always in role). He is nevertheless totally believable: a warm, charming, clever character. Conti delivers his witty one liners with acute timing, lines like “That was British Justice, now for the truth”. Elizabeth Payne as Margaret Casely, the Queens Counsel for the prosecution, provides an excellent sparring partner. Her sharp delivery and equally superb timing lead to some brilliantly executed exchanges between these two leads. She is utterly plausible as the canny lawyer. Royce Mills, in the part of the Judge, has the charisma, voice and gravitas just right but appears at times to be reading his script, or at least referring to it. This is a tad off-putting, especially as his timing is not always accurate. Carol Starks appears as Jean Highwood, James’ wife. As the story progresses she really captures the anguish of her character as she supports her beloved husband, whilst struggling with her own feelings and conscience. The rapport between the couple is spot on. Daniel Michaels is gentle and sweet as the rather naïve and awkward solicitor, Jeremy Ayckroyd . He does the ‘lost and all at sea’ character well and is extremely likeable. Mary Lincoln, Shaun Morton and Simon Murray are all very creditable in their roles.
Frisby has created a smart script with a bleak plot, which is smattered with wit and humour and clever insights as well as some very poignant moments. All this goes to keep this essentially simple story full of tension and life, whilst the sharp and clever exchanges between many of the characters are what makes Rough Justice work. Sensitive and tight direction by James Larkin helps. Janet Bird’s awesome set design makes the scene changes smooth and speedy, almost part of the story, particularly when working with very effective sound and lighting that add to the whole atmosphere and the suspense.
A convincing courtroom drama that holds our attention for the entire time, well worth a look-in.
Runs until 22 Sep 2012
Rough Justice - Milton Keynes Theatre,