REVIEW: Murmuring Judges
Luke Dell was thrilled with this adaptation of David Hare’s captivating institutional satire
David Hare’s Murmuring Judges is an intriguing political satire, which attacks the corruption and bleak inner-workings of the late twentieth Century British legal system and its various institutions.
The story follows Gerard (Joe Shalom), a dubiously guilty Irish citizen caught up in a just as dubious crime that culminates in his being sentenced to prison. Joe perfectly captures the incessant despair of an innocent man, trapped in a cramped, bare cell, as his life is piece by piece dismantled before him, at first by the indifferent and dispassionate police force and later by the corrupt, callous judicial system.
Joe’s permanent presence in his cell upstage meant that the audience were consistently reminded of his grief and isolation, as well as his character’s implication in the play’s other events. His being stripped of his clothes in one of the play’s early scenes highlighted his naivety and vulnerability, further conveyed in a later, violent encounter with two other inmates in the shower block. This scene proved particularly poignant, as the audience were left feeling increasingly compassionate towards the lost, guiltless protagonist.
In contrast to Gerard, who draws genuine sympathy from the audience, are the two instantly dislikeable lawyers. Although excellently acted, Ed Limb’s suave, pretentious and egotistical interpretation of Cuddeford and Tom Chamberlain’s cold, ignorant and apathetic, Sir Peter, were the highly clichéd, upper-class lawyers of Hare’s judicial system, swimming in money whilst the police and prisons are left struggling on minimal funding and resources.
Institutional corruption and prejudice becomes blindingly obvious, when, for example, Gerard is given an extended prison sentence because of his Irish origins. But it appears that Hare too is presenting his own prejudices by so readily equating wealth with malevolence. Perhaps this is not an entirely fair comment, since we are also introduced to the caring and compassionate lawyer, Irina, played by Kate Reid, who was certainly one of the strongest performers in the play. Kate expresses raw, genuine emotions throughout the show, most notably her hopelessness and sadness when informing Gerard of the pitiful outcome of his appeal.
Likewise, Sophia Flohr also gives an outstanding, emotional performance as police officer, Sandra, whose respect and compassion for her job and the criminals she detains aptly contrasts the misogynies and inherent racism of the male members of the police force, in particular police officer, Dave (Jack Gardner), and detective, Barry (Jack Parham). Sam Knights gave a particularly amusing standout performance in his role as Police Sergeant, Lester. He also captured the indifference and apathy that appeared to drain out of all the male institutional figures in Hare’s play. However, unlike the extremely wealthy lawyers, the police are left with insufficient resources, with Barry, for example, having to go to extreme, not to mention illegal, measures in order to try to fulfil his duties and catch criminals on the streets – another economic satire present throughout Hare’s work.
Except, perhaps, for Gerard, the female characters in Murmuring Judges dominate as being the only compassionate human beings in Hare’s ironic and satirical interpretation of the 1980s British legal system. The audience witness the relentless determination of Irina and Sandra as they struggle to tackle the corruption and malfeasance of their respective institutions. Even Hannah Sands, Beckett, seems to show an essence of compassion towards Gerard despite her tough exterior as a prison guard. Hare’s play is ultimately driven by the female leads in each of the institutions he satirises, all excellently portrayed by the cast of this adaptation.
But I couldn’t help but feel that some of the play’s content was slightly unsubtle, with stereotyped, broad brush-stroke caricatures that made some of the play’s characterisation feel rather dated and clichéd. Nevertheless, it was still thought provoking and carried-out effortlessly by the outstanding, almost flawless, performances of the entire cast. On top of this, the play’s production elements were also very well executed.
The cast made full use of space and the multi-levelled stage added depth to the performance, becoming particularly useful in the final scene, which was extremely well directed and choreographed by Will Bishop. On top of this, the costume design was fantastic and the use of sound effects, music and clever lighting added to the play’s emotional and intriguing atmosphere.
Overall, Will Bishop’s adaptation of Murmuring Judges is an excellent piece of theatrical satire, both entertaining and stimulating, excellently performed and staged, and was only let down by some of the overly stereotypical prejudices embedded in the script itself.