Theatre review: The Dock Brief
PUBLISHED: 11:52 15 October 2014 | UPDATED: 16:08 07 April 2015
Tweedy the Clown? Starring in The Dock Brief, by John Mortimer? Is this legal? asks Katie Jarvis.
Tweedy the Clown – our clown, no less – without his red tuft! In a ‘straight’ acting part! IS THIS LEGAL?!?
Yes, as it turns out, it is legal: in John Mortimer’s The Dock Brief. And oh! but we loved it. The audience at the Everyman Studio Theatre drummed the floor with their feet at the end of a performance that demanded more words than Tweedy has ever spoken in his entire decade of Giffords performances. Possibly in his entire life. Who knows?
So let’s backtrack a bit to, for example, the beginning of this performance, which is where a review normally starts. Even a bit more, perhaps. Because I interviewed Tweedy in the halcyon days of September (mainly about his Everyman pantomime role, which is up-and-coming), when he told me how nervous he was already feeling about appearing in Dock Brief. “It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve done for a while. So many lines to learn,” he shivered.
And there were tons and tons of lines in this Mortimer classic, in which failing barrister Morganhall (played by Mark Hyde) desperately takes on the “furtive and repulsive” Fowle (Tweedy, of course; do we have to say ‘Alan Digweed’?) about to be tried for the murder of his wife. Fowle is concerned for his counsel, mainly because, as he admits early on, he did indeed murder his wife. For Morganhall, however, this confession is a detail that can go hang. His aim is to get his client off, receive a letter of commendation from the judge, and thus revive a legal career that’s not so much flagging as has never enthusiastically waved in the breeze in the first place.
And so begins a very-funny-indeed role-reversal that sees bird-fancier Fowle buoying up the spirits of Morganhall, full of kind concern about the disaster a conviction would mean to his barrister. After all, as Morganhall irritably points out, Fowle shouldn’t keep putting “difficulties” (such as confessions) in his way. And, anyway, one man’s wife-murder is merely another man’s attempt “to take it upon himself to regulate his domestic affairs”.
You know, I’ll tell you the truth. When I walked into the Studio and saw the set – one prison brick wall (graffiti-ed with Chad; hangman nooses; and ‘I was framed’ messages); plus the cast-list of two, I was as downhearted as Morganhall facing a guilty budgie-hugger. But this was an utterly superb performance that never lost its pace, thanks also to excellent direction from Michael Hasted. Hyde’s pathetic authority was a consummate lesson in who-should-never-be-a-barrister-but-went-to-public-school-ism. While Tweedy combined a level of clowning – exaggerated mime, perhaps – that’s probably unique to this production. It might have lessened the pathos, at times, of an aging professional whose left shoe lets in water; but it heightened the comedy in a way that kept the laughs coming in one of the most entertaining evenings I’ve spent in the theatre of recent times.
If I were a defendant, I’d run a million miles from Morganhall; if I were a budgie, I’d panic at the sight of Fowle; if I were a judge with either in my court, I’d take instant early retirement at any age. As a theatre-goer, however, this is very, very far from a trial. Fabulous.
• The Dock Brief by John Mortimer, at Everyman Studio Theatre, Cheltenham, October 14-18; 7-10 Regent St, Cheltenham GL50 1HQ, 01242 572573; www.everymantheatre.org.uk