Review: The Dock Brief (Michael Hasted)

 Cheltenham Everyman Studio

“Now you’re the only case I’ve got, and the most difficult.”

John Mortimer’s play The Dock Brief has character. That is to say, this two-man two-act play shows off a script with character in its composition; the dialogue and interaction between a failing barrister and his initially indifferent defendant.

The audience are seated within the Cheltenham Everyman’s Studio Theatre facing the interior of a small prison cell that has the appearance of having hosted numerous inhabitants over the course of time. As there only exists a rear wall so that the spectator has an unrestricted view of the action, the bricked surface is covered in various chalk illustrations and text.

Within this prison cell, director Michael Hasted has confined Mark Hyde and Alan “Tweedy” Digweed, characters Morganhall and Fowle, to perform Mortimer’s energetic and entertaining play. Hyde’s portrayal of the barrister, Morganhall, is dutifully and delightfully overdramatic; relishing every word uttered, and a terrific contrast to Digweed’s character as Fowle, the defendant, awaiting trial for the apparent murder of his wife.

Visually, the most striking moment occurs at the start of the play, as the ambient sound of a busy prison interior dwindles and the stage goes dark, Corin Hayes’ lighting suddenly reveals the head and shoulders of Fowle, elevated behind bars as though he is looking out of his window and about to hang himself, next the sound of a door opening and Morganhall’s silhouette is revealed stood to the side, the spill of ‘external’ light through the cell’s doorway, forming on the floor. This noir imagery creates an fascinating illusion for the viewers, generating particular expectations of how the story may proceed, an illusion immediately shattered as the lights change and the action begins; laughter already beginning to ripple through the audience.

The level of entertainment is very high in this comic drama; subtle moments of humour throughout, whether intentional or not, as characterisation is key in this production. Hyde’s Morganhall is consistent with any and all emotion always played larger-than-life, while still retaining the spectators’ empathy; Digweed as Fowle has been provided with a persona who is permitted to role-play as a variety of characters, as both Fowle and Morganhall collaborate in trying to predict the different outcomes of the trial. It is in these moments where Digweed’s superb talents in exaggerated mime performance are able to really shine, and the perfectly proportioned performance space is transformed into a mini courtroom using only the scenery available on stage: two chairs and a table.

A production such as this, with its excellent minimal staging and an acting pair of wonderful calibre, truly deserves an extended run; a brilliant blend of humour and moments of drama in John Mortimer’s The Dock Brief. This production was directed and produced by Michael Hasted at the Cheltenham Everyman Studio in October 2014.

TJM

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