Murmuring Judges

Tue 1st – Sat 5th March 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 22:48 on 1st Mar 2016

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I find the justice system and the police force to be comforting ideas - probably because I've never really had any direct contact with them. This is certainly not how they come across in Murmuring Judges, a tragic, infuriating and darkly comic play about Gerard, a hapless man arrested and imprisoned in a case of wrong-place-wrong-time, and the people working around him within the system. This fantastic play is brought to life by a fabulous cast and crew, and is a must-see.

David Hare's play does an intricate and highly effective job of presenting the audience with a simultaneous view of four 'layers' of the justice system, each of them complex and deeply political, each one populated by vivid and human characters. At the top, woefully isolated from the real world, sit the judges of the title, serenely passing judgement on the underlings below like dusty, divine beings. Below them, lawyers - a divided bunch, some of them connected to reality, some of them just as head-in-the-clouds as the judges above. Then, the police force, close to the ground, long-suffering, not without their own imperfections. And at the very bottom sits Gerard, the uncomprehending everyman on whom all this conflict and chaos is focused. People at all levels are forced to bend and compromise, and the difference between the (often only with difficulty identifiable) goodies and baddies is how willing they are to do this. Nobody is entirely innocent, but very few are entirely guilty.

The set design and direction decisions play into this complexity wonderfully. The versatile design featuring a set of double doors beneath a balcony allowed the audience to shift between levels. The doors were features of offices, prisons, opera houses, dining rooms, and - in the fantastic final moments of the play - a pair of western saloon style doors for a character to heroically burst though. The balcony also allowed what was one of the best effects of the production. During much of the central part of the play, the imprisoned Gerard was displayed in his prison cell on it while the machinations of the police and legal teams played out beneath him. This made sure nobody ever forgot the very real stakes of what seemed at times a theoretical game.

The cast too did a brilliant job without exception, presenting characters who were always filled to the brim with nuance, and who constantly asked audience sympathies to shift. Kate Reid stood out as Irina, an idealistic young lawyer clashing with the injustice of the system. Sophia Flohr was canny and endearing as a salt-of-the-earth policewoman trying desperately to do both the Right Thing and a Good Job. Joe Shalom was heartbreaking as Gerard, the victim of the piece, and managed a very good Northern Irish accent throughout. Jack Parham too did a great job of presenting both a roguish copper with his heart in the right place, and then later on, something else.

Murmuring Judges gave a highly complex, realistic and sensitive glimpse into the labyrinthine world of the justice and prison system and was by turns shocking, infuriating, heartening, funny, and depressing. A brilliant play turned into a brilliant production, this is definitely not one to miss.

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Jessica Farmery

at 12:16 on 2nd Mar 2016

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Murmuring Judges is a thought-provoking insight beneath the PR-polished surface of the police force and the courts of law, revealing a world governed by unspoken rules, in which the boundaries between right and wrong are often blurred.

I had no preconceived ideas about what to expect from this performance, yet right from the first scene I found myself falling for the ways in which the fast-paced and engaging dialogue played to the talents of the actors. The first half had a good balance of intense and thought provoking scenes, mixed with lighter moments, well-placed comedy, and liberal dark humour. The plot really took off in the second half, immersing the audience in a fast-paced narrative of tension, desperation and drama. I felt that perhaps the long scenes dominated by monologues or two-person dialogue could have been interspersed with more of the humour and light heartedness seen in the first half, yet these scenes did provide ample opportunity for the actors to add depth to their performances through strong character development.

The entire cast were extremely strong, and I found myself unable to pinpoint a single weak link amongst them. Special mention should go to the Kate Reid for her portrayal of aspiring barrister Irina, and to Sophia Florh in the role of conflicted police officer Sandra. Both actors displayed versatility and credibility as their characters battled emotional involvements and the entrenched norms of the institutions in which they had to work. Tom Chamberlain’s excellent performance of Sir Peter as the embodiment of the privilege of the established judiciary provided comic relief despite his occasional uncomfortably close-to-the-bone observations.

Despite this being the opening night, the show ran without any perceptible hiccups, and I was especially impressed by the cast’s confidence in and ownership of the script.

The lighting and musical cues were well integrated and cohesive, contributing to the performance rather than simply adorning it. These technical features also seemed to run smoothly, to the credit of Sound Designer Emily Galvin and Lighting Designer Johnny King. The set was minimalist yet aesthetically pleasing and clearly well thought out, providing a fitting setting for the compelling narrative without distracting from the actors’ offerings.

This production was an outstanding example of how to effectively utilise a talented cast, and I would readily re-watch it in order to more fully appreciate how the production and directorial team achieved this. I would recommend Murmuring Judges to anyone who appreciates drama which stays with them after they leave the theatre, as I was left questioning the legitimacy of the British criminal justice system, and feeling acutely conscious of its fallibility.

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