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A CurtainUp London Review
The Dock Brief is about the way a barrister was allocated to a defendant with no money to buy himself a defence. Just half an hour before the case was due to start a lawyer would be chosen from the back of the court by the judge to defend the accused for free. This lawyer would be known as a "dock brief." This was the equivalent of pot luck and you could land yourself an up and coming young lion or you could equally be represented by someone who was quite useless.
Edward Fox plays Morgenhall, whose duty is to defend Fowle (Nicholas Woodeson) who freely and disarmingly admits that he murdered his wife. Initially Fowle doesn't realise what is happening and thinks the barrister is a fellow prisoner. Despite Fowle's determination to get himself hanged, Morgenhall manages to construct a defence and rehearses this with Fowle playing all the other parts, judge, witnesses, prosecuting counsel. Woodeson is electrifying in all these roles and the agility with which he picks up the play acting seems unlikely, but sadly Edward Fox's character is stolid and tedious. However, the conclusion is amusing. The authentic looking set of The Dock Brief doesn't help the drama with its converging eighteen feet high grey brick walls which started to make me feel as if I were imprisoned but stay until after the interval for another charming comedy.
The second play in the pairing Edwin, started in a similar radio way in 1982. It was later broadcast on television with Sir Alec Guinness in the role of the retired judge and first staged at The Orange Tree in 1996.
Edwin is set in the garden of the home of a retired, cantankerous judge, Sir Fennimore Truscott, in whom I recognise some of the same characteristics as the Father in Mortimer's autobiographical play A Voyage Round My Father. The name of his house is an ironic "Gallows Corner". The judge accuses their friend Tom (Nicholas Woodeson) of having a long term affair with Margaret Lady Truscott (Polly Adams) and their verbal jousting is full of wit and bile. The Truscott's only child Edwin lives in America but is due to visit his parents for luncheon. But the question is who are his real parents? It seems Edwin has an artistic temperament and Truscott thinks Edwin is more likely to have potter and artist Tom's genes than his own. Margaret has the last laugh when she finds a clever way for the two men to agree to remain friends. The making of this play is Edward Fox as a stubborn, difficult and curmudgeonly old judge. Fox is delightful as he pontificates from the safety of his garden chair.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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