Plays are a way for writers to shout at the world, but if people won’t listen to what you have to say, that is another matter. For a while you have an audience’s undivided attention, and if you lose it, not only is it your fault, but the actors and producer’s fault too. This is because, although you may have physically captured some willing theatre goers for an hour and a half, you may well not have captured their hearts and minds.
That’s the hard bit. As many playwrights have discovered, it is not simply about challenging a tired businessman or a harassed housewife’s intellect during an evening’s performance, because you have to entertain them too! Whilst the actors suspend disbelief, and occupy the audience’s attention on stage, the playwright has to tinker with people’s prejudices, and open doors which ordinary theatre goers might not wish to be opened. You can do this by being terribly famous – Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Anton Chekhov, and Samuel Becket – or you can write a play, and play tricks.
In my play Judicial Review, it starts with a court scene where the accused Sir Jerald Noakes is being sentenced. He fraudulently acquired a 50 million GBP fortune through insider dealing, and has been found guilty. A very up-to-date crime, you might say?
And, you might also be forgiven for a casual yawn – as if you were reading the Daily Telegraph in bed on a Sunday morning, with a nice cup of tea – but in this case you are not. You are awaiting sentence to be passed on a smug and self satisfied pillar of society, who has been caught out.
In my play, the fictional characters are living during a time of Private Prisons, where the wealthy are allowed to pay for their own imprisonment, and even to attach some unusual conditions, especially concerning conjugal visits. Of course, there are added tax advantages, which have to be agreed in court, together with the location of his desired prison. Sir Jerald elects to be imprisoned at La Collonette Prison on the borders of Switzerland, and to suffer skiing; amongst other demeaning punishments, at his own additional expense.
More like a private club than a criminal court, you might say, but then we then move onto the actors themselves, who, in rehearsal, seem somewhat baffled at the contents of the play, and are looking for explanations. They are an assorted lot and pretty left wing as well. Sponsored by a Socialist Workers group, the rehearsal is taking place in a theatre within the Reading University campus.
Sir Jerald is played by a somewhat aging gay, Lady Noakes, by a tattooed lesbian, Noakes’ posh upper class barrister is played by a Jewish actor, His Lordship Judge Cohen is a West Indian actor, and the playwright, Liam McInerney, is a seething, dyspeptic socialist from Northern Ireland. So suddenly, in scene two, the audience has quite a lot to think about.
Of course the actors hate the parts they are playing. But as time goes by, the audience also starts to become confused. As mounting angst is portrayed on stage, and the accusations – mainly centred on greed, money and expensive possessions – bandied about, we see the characters of the actors and their parts gradually begin to merge. Lady Noakes, who usually wears a twin set and pearls, and is a frightfully upper class, suddenly appears in a performance wearing ripped jeans, Doc Martins, and smoking a roll-up. Is it all going haywire?
In the end, we discover the posh self satisfied City mogul is dying, and seeking recognition for his life’s work, all he finds is deceit and contempt. His business associates turn against him, and patronize him, because he is becoming weaker by the day. But redemption is at hand, because Sir Jerald has a ‘cunning plan,’ via which he can die in peace, and by turning his personal fortune to the public good, he achieves some kind of revenge on his tormentors – his dreadful grasping family – and the unfeeling predators he has been feeding for most of his business life.
What is the moral of this play? It is simply that if we were all willingly cloned to some preconceived idea of what is normal, there would be no conflict in our society. And if one was to move that unlikely condition to encapsulate the world, peace would reign supreme. But, of course it doesn’t. Or does it?
Remember, I wrote this play long before LGBT consensus, including characters who would in their early life have been the subject of prejudice and scorn, and even – at the time – the British courts too, although not for fraud, and one has to remember that!