Consent – A play by Nina Raine

BenChaplinEdwardinConsentbyNinaRaine.PhotobySarahLeeThe justice system is put on trial and the foibles of criminal barristers scrutinised in Nina Raine’s new play Consent, which opened at the Dorfman Theatre in London last week.

It uses the insecurities, inadequacies and infidelities of a group of fairly unlikeable middle class Londoners and the incredulity of a working class woman who says she was raped, to critique the impersonal nature of the law and its relationship with justice, and address big issues of truth, punishment, forgiveness, class, and relationships. All of which leaves the viewer pretty exhausted.

The set is minimal, with suspended lampshades giving the feeling of being in the John Lewis lighting department.

Four of the characters are criminal barristers, who on the whole do not come off well, portraying their profession as superior, arrogant workaholics with deeply dysfunctional relationships.

The question of whether they were always like that or whether a daily diet of rape, murder and violence has corroded them, is left unanswered.

Their behaviour is keenly observed in a play that has been immaculately researched. In the programme, which includes essays from Baroness Helena Kenndy, Alex McBride and Iain Morley QC, thanks are given to Matrix barrister and clerk, Jessica Jones and Alison Scanes, 7 Bedford Row’s Rachel Darby and Daniel Coombes and Helen Greenfield at Family Law in Partnership.

The characters speak of themselves as though they were their clients. ‘I’ve been raping pensionsers … I tie them up, I fuck them, and then I nick their stuff, says Jake, played by Adam James.

Two of the friends, who actually despise each other, are pitted against each other in a rape trial. ‘I raped this woman, London lady, no witnesses, she’s a bit of a drinker, so am I, her word against mine’, says Ed (Ben Chaplin) who sees his clients as an opportunity to hone his range of impressions.

Against him is the repressed and perpetually single Tim (Pip Carter), who read classics at university. For all his book-learning, he is hopelessly awkward when it comes to explaining the trial process to the frightened and angry complainant Gayle, played with real emotion by Heather Craney.

PipCarterTimHeatherCraneyGayleinConsentbyNinaRaine2She is baffled by the niceties of the process that mean her alleged rapist has a lawyer, but she does not, and that evidence of her mental health issues can be used to undermine her, while the defendant’s previous convictions cannot go before the jury.

Her question to the prosecutor ‘Are you on my side?’ turns to the plaintiff cry ‘But it happened to me’, when told she is merely a witness in the Crown’s case.

Later, she turns up at uninvited at Ed and Kitty’s (Anna Maxwell Martin) Christmas drinks party, indicting the ‘fucking useless’ prosecutor whom she only met five minutes before the trial. Her verdict on the system in which she watches two barristers ‘fight it out’ is that it’s a ‘fucking mess’.

AscenefromConsentbyNinaRaine.PhotographerSarahLeeDefending the process, Ed trots out the stock justification that ‘we presume innocence, because better a guilty man goes free than an innocent go to jail’.

Warming to this theme, he tells her: ‘The law’s not going to work according to your emotions, Gayle, because it’s got to be dispassionate, it’s got to be impersonal ‘.. it’s not about satisfying your personal sense of outrage, because if it was, it wouldn’t be fair and that is the whole fucking point’.

The cynic’s view of the barrister is given in two lines – Kitty tells her husband Ed ‘you tease people for a living’ and Rachel, vexed by Jake’s dishonesty, screeches ‘He says he’s a terrible liar. That’s a lie. He does it for a living’.

While Tim and Ed give a master class in the art of advocacy to their dippy actress chum Zara (Daisy Haggard), who is auditioning for the part of a criminal barrister with no home life, who speaks Mandarin and rollerblades.

They explain that advocacy is basically ‘a fight between two opposing narratives’ in which the defence’s role is to ‘pick your way through and convince the jury of one simple line’.

After the nice open questions by the crown to set the narrative, the defence ‘fuck up that narrative,’ bending perceptions to put an idea in the jury’s head.

As their oratory turns more personal and bitter, they deliver more tips:

  • Use spectacles –‘ Pick ’em up, put ’em down, they engage the listener when you’re about to speak…And they make you look cleverer’
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Use it to create tension
  • Tell the witness they disagree with you, to close them down and box them in
  • get a rhythm going, play dirty, don’t look at the witness but straight ahead, and bounce your case off them
  • create an embarrassment or look for the ‘leaver’ For example:

EDWARD: Do you find my wife attractive, Tim?

TIM: No

EDWARD: You’re saying my wife is not attractive, am I right?

TIM: No.

EDWARD: So she is an attractive woman, my wife, you would say, Tim?

TIM: Yes.

EDWARD: And yet you don’t find her attractive, is that right? You said earlier my wife is an attractive woman. Then you say you don’t find her attractive. Which is the lie?

Ed explains: ‘It’s a sort of trapdoor. You ring-fence around, locking off escape routes. And then you pull the lever. You drive an unanswerable rhetorical wedge between the answers’.

  • And, ‘when you don’t know what the hell else to do’, ‘repeat their answer slowly, like they’ve fucked up, and let it hang in the air’.

As the play goes on, the characters’ seemingly perfect lives crumble, exposing their dysfunctional relationships and hidden grievances. In their personal lives, the pedantic legal language and adversarial techniques of the courtroom prove inadequate.

When Edward is accused of marital rape, he becomes as jabbering and hesitant, under the cross examination of his friends as any defendant in the dock, proffering similar defences – ‘I thought I was showing passion’; ‘she said no a couple of times, but so did I’.

Sticking by her accusation, Kitty says: ‘It’s my truth’. To which her husband protests: ‘It’s not the truth.’

Attempting to placate the pair, their friend Jake (Adam James) observes: ‘There’s a world in which you’re both telling the truth. But that’s not the law. In court, your narratives are oil and water. They can never mix. One of you will win. And one of you will lose.’

AnnaMaxwellMartinKittyBenChaplinEdwardHeatherCraneyLaurainConsentbyNinaRaine.PhotographerSarahLeeIt is Kitty’s turn to be exasperated by the law, this time the family justice system, when she is advised that the alleged rape is not relevant to residence proceedings because rape. Like pornography and prostitutes, is ‘not damaging to the child’.

Ed’s concession that ‘technically’ he raped her, poses the question of whether there can be degrees of rape.

Consent is a play very much de nos jours, touching on current polemics and trends, with wit and comedy moments, mostly of a sexual nature.

The somewhat clichéd line from Kitty that ‘You can’t legislate for human behaviour’ sums up the tension at its heart.

Consent runs until 17th May

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The Disappearance of Miss Bebb — A play by Alex Giles

gwyneth-bebb-0071-1hd9z11On Sunday evening the Kalisher Trust turned the clocks backs 100 years to a time when the legal profession was exclusively male, presenting the world premier of lawyer/playwright Alex Giles’ play, The Disappearance of Miss Bebb.

It recounts the life and efforts of its pioneering eponymous heroine who, with three other women, in the test case Bebb v The Law Society sought to open the legal profession to women.

Having had their £4 fee to sit the preliminary exams returned, she sought a declaration from the court that she was a ‘person’ within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843, and was therefore entitled to be admitted. ‘When is a person not a person?’ asks Bebb, played with passion by Laura Main, Call the Midwife’s Sister Bernadette. Answering her own question: ‘When she’s a woman’.

thumbnail_IMG_1772The highs and lows of their campaign are interspersed by commiseratory teas at Simpsons on The Strand over ‘indifferent fruit cake’ rather than celebratory champagne and with a cameo performance by Lady Hale, playing Crystal MacMillan, activist and one of the founders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Bebb was the only woman in her year to read law at Oxford – a ‘wholly unsuitable subject for a young woman’ according to her hostile mother who constantly chides her for her ambition, and would rather she were more like her conventional sister who is content to be a wife, even of an abusive husband.

‘If you love the law so much, why not find a solicitor to marry. What’s wrong with being a solicitor’s wife?’ she tells her errant daughter.

Presented in the form of a radio performance, an all-star cast dressed in dinner suits or frocks, read their lines into old-fashioned microphones, complete with sounds effects of crying babies and trains created by members of the cast.

thumbnail_IMG_1769Martin Shaw, of Judge John Deed fame, plays Bebb’s barrister, Mr (later Lord) Stanley Buckmaster KC, who tries valiantly to persuade the court that just because there has never been a woman lawyer in England and Wales, the law does not prohibit it.

 thumbnail_IMG_1762The misogynistic, pompous and curmudgeonly judge, Mr Justice Joyce, was played by President of the Queen’s Division, Sir Brian Leveson. He returned to the company, having previously been called upon, post his great enquiry into the behaviour of the press, to play a newspaper seller in an Agatha Christie play.

Despite Buckamster’s efforts, Joyce rules that women were incapable of carrying out a public function in common law, a disability that must remain ‘unless and until’ Parliament changes the law.

The play also recounts the efforts of Mr (later Major) Hills MP, played by actor Hugh Dennis, to get the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 passed by Parliament. Pre-war and with opposition from the Law Society, Bar Council and City of London Solicitors’ Company, his bill failed.

thumbnail_IMG_1770Reflecting the tone of the argument, one opponent, calling himself ‘A country Solicitor’ wrote in a letter to The Times newspaper: ‘If the Law Society does not oppose this proposal by every means in its power and block the Bill in Parliament as often as it appears, the society deserves to be wiped out of existence and a newer and more effective organization for the protection of our bread-and-butter set up in its place.

‘There is only one bright spot in the proposal to admit women as solicitors, and that is, that the public well know that there was yet a woman who could keep her mouth shut on other people’s affairs.’

After the war, once women, in the absence of male fighters, had run the family law firms, and the death of brothers meant father’s wanted to pass on their firms to their daughters, attitudes shift and the Bill finally made it onto the statute book.

It transpires that Bebb fancies life at the bar, prompting Buckmaster’s incredulous response: ‘If you think the Law Society is a tough nut to crack, the Bar Council is impregnable’.

Having been refused admission in 1918, successfully reapplies after the act, to be admitted as a student barrister at Lincoln’s Inn.

Recalling her first dinner at the Inn, Bebb utters words that surely pass the lips of all would-be barristers: ‘It was magical – one of the best days of my life. I felt a bit like a debutante enjoying my first ball’.

thumbnail_IMG_1775Bebb did fulfil her mother’s ambition for her — she married a country solicitor – Thomas Thomson, played by actor Ray Fearon. With patience, he woes the fiercely independent Bebb, giving her a brooch in the shape of the scales of justice and Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.

Alas, she never fulfils her dream of becoming a barrister, dying aged 31 after the birth of her second daughter.

Her death certificate labelled her simply ‘wife of a solicitor’. Incensed by the final indignity served by society on her gal pal, her co-campaigner Maud Ingram amends it in thick black pen to read ‘OBE, MA Oxon, Barrister-at-law.’

thumbnail_IMG_1777One hundred years on, while many of the views expressed to exclude women may seem laughable today, the attrition rate of female lawyers, gender pay disparity and lack of senior female judges, shows there is still much for twenty-first century Bebb’s to fight for and much for the professions still to do.

My Country Right or Wrong – A play by Nigel Pascoe QC

Inner Temple’s wood-panelled Parliament Chamber was the setting for a cast of 17 to present a thought-provoking evening of dramatised reading examining the legality of the Iraq war. picture-122-1424101221

The writer was Pump Court Chambers’ Nigel Pascoe QC, who has previously brought audiences his one-man show, The Trial of Penn and Mead. He had done a volte-face on his view of the war, initially supporting British PM Tony Blair and his reliance on the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’.

His change of heart prompted his own forensic analysis of the evidence – the result of which was the play – My Country Right or Wrong.

Pascoe, who narrated the story, had put together newspaper cuttings, minutes of meetings, parliamentary debates and other documentary sources, read by the cast who played the dramatis personae involved in the unfolding disaster, with a lone violinist striking up to mark the most portentous moments.

Among them 5RB’s Iain Christie (a former legal adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who has acted for the government in high profile cases before the European Court of Human Rights) played a rather wet Blair, Gareth Frow brought to life US president George Bush, with a comedy Texan accent, before later doubling up as Geoff Hoon MP and Greg Dyke, while Simon Walters took the part of an excitable US reporter before flatting his vowels to morph into William Hague.

Seated in a wide semi-circle, the cast rose sombrely to their feet to deliver their lines, and positioned, as they often were, on opposite sides of the room gave the audience the feeling of being at Wimbledon.

The play is directed towards an imaginary jury – the audience, which during Friday’s performance included a tiny pooch.

Barrister and actor John Bromley-Davenport prompted the jury to consider the evidence, on occasion remarking, in the manner of Michael Dobb’s fictional chief whip Francis Urquhart, ‘You make think that, I couldn’t possibly comment’, before finally asking ‘How say you?’

And the verdict – an interesting run down of the events, recalling the big parliamentary speeches and key moments, that could have benefited from greater pace and a little editing – though not in the manner of the infamously ‘sexed-up’ intelligence report.

Reluctant thumbs up for revamped Fleet Street watering hole

FOT1172666El Vino, historically the boozer where the gossipy worlds of lawyers and hacks collided, in the glory days of Fleet Street before the presses stopped rolling, opened its doors in 1879 and remained in the ownership of its founding family until its sale to chain, Davy’s, last summer.

The sale sparked concern among stalwarts who have remained loyal to the wine bar, infamous for not allowing women at the bar until 1982 and famed for its portrayal as Rumpole of the Bailey’s haunt, Pomeroys.

Further disquiet was abroad at the start of the summer, when the bar shut for a week for a quick refurb. But fears that its quaint olde worlde character, beloved by American tourists, would be stripped away, were unfounded.

A fresh lick of paint, albeit in a colour dubbed by one punter as ‘gr-eige’, new lighting, the removal of the security bars which had covered the skylight and a spot of cleaning, have made El Vino lighter and brighter.

The lino that replaces the carpets and fools no-one into thinking it is wooden floor boards, looks cheap, and several have bemoaned the introduction of music, but the free wifi is a most welcome addition.

To retain the character, some of the old chairs embossed with the names of their former occupants including Sir Colin Cole’s, remain, but fake green leather banquets have been installed, softening the appearance of the place.

And while the walls are still adorned with traditional prints, those who pay close attention to such things, will observe the absense of the portrait of Madame Veuve Cliquot.

The manager said that the changes had received a positive reaction, and that seemed the consensus of the steady flow of patrons on a Thursday lunchtime — not all of whom would have met El Vino’s historic dress code, which dictated ties for men and skirts for women.

Two barristers who have been frequenting the joint for the last 14 years gave their verdict. The first: ‘I’ve been complaining about the two inches of bird shit covering the skylight for the last 15 years, but now it’s gone, I miss it.’

While the second described the line of spotlights facing the far wall ‘daring’ and determined that while ‘the food is better, the booze is worse’.

The menu has been changed in line with the fare on offer at all of Davy’s other establishments, with the addition of specials, and the wine list of the two outfits is being rationalised, with some old favourites set to be discontinued — though, I am assured the house Claret will remain.

A lone luncher, who happened to be a hack from Australia, and who had wanted to check it out for some time, found him self there due to problems with the trains.

His opinion: ‘I was surprised how light and airy it was, given its reputation, but that’s no bad thing. Despite the new look, it’s pretty much how I imagined it would look’.

Another huddle of lawyers, who have been going there for the last 40 years, formed the consensus that they ‘reluctantly approved’ of the facelift.

‘It could have been a lot worse and that hasn’t happened, which is a good thing.’

Inner Temple – the Great Fire stopped here

Inner Temple – where the Great Fire of London stopped – hosts part of a six-day arts festival taking place across the capital to mark the 350th anniversary of the blaze

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Performers from Birmingham-based theatre group, Stan’s Café are staging performance art show, Of All the People in All the World, in Inner Temple Hall.

IMG_4601Dressed in smart tradesmens’ coats they measure out quantities of rice, which they pour into neat piles on the floor to represent abstract statistics, ranging from the six people who died during the 1666 blaze, to the number of people who voted in the EU referendum and the number of people born in the world each day.

The biggest pile, spread across the top of the hall, represented the number of refugees around the globe who are displaced from their homes.

The figures to which the rice grains correspond are not written anywhere in the installation. Actor, Sarah Archdeacon, explains that is so that visitors can ‘experience the statistics visually and understand them in a different way’.

One person is represented by each grain of rice, and as a ready-reckoner, 6o grains of rice weighs one gram, while one tonne equates to 60 millions souls. Handily for the diligent performers, a 25kg sack would represent 1.5 million people.

IMG_4585
People watching episode 1, series 7 of the Great British Bake Off

As the fire started at a baker’s in Pudding Lane, and in an effort to bring the past and present together, one huge pile of rice represents the number of viewers who tuned in to watch the first episode of the seventh series of the BBC1’s Great British Bake Off (10.4 million, in case you were wondering).

The work explores themes including immigration and legal aid. One theory about the fire of London is that it was started in a bid to rid the capital of the increasing number of immigrants that people wrongly perceived were taking over London – plus ca change!

There is a pile of rice depicting the number of immigrants falsely rumoured to be marching towards the  City and other much smaller piles reflecting the number of foreigners at the time of the 1639 census – among others there were two Poles, 24 Germans and 11 Italians.

IMG_4591Of particular legal interest is the pile showing the number of people granted legal aid in civil cases in 2012/13, next to a pile about a third of the size, for the number in receipt of civil legal aid in 2013/14.

Two stacks reflect the number of men and women in prison in England and Wales, next to a sorry mound for the number of children under 18 detained in youth custody and a huge heap representing prisoners worldwide.

Two sad heaps next to each other represent those living in the Calais Jungle in July 2016 and the number of asylum seekers who entered the Uk in 2015.

IMG_4605There’s a section with piles representing the judiciary, the number of solicitors and the membership of the Criminal Bar Association, as well as the members and benchers of Inner Temple.

Going back further in history, three small piles represent respectively, the number of barons appointed to monitor King John’s adherence to the Magna Carta, the number of churchmen and barons named as counsellors to King John at the time of Magna Carta and those who witnessed the issue of Magna Carta in 1225.

To mark the anniversary Temple Music Foundation has commissioned an opera, And London Burned, in recognition of the fact that the last flames of the fire were beaten out at Inner Temple, under the direction of its Royal Bencher, the King’s brother, James, Duke of York. The efforts of James and his men saved the Temple Church, where the opera will have its premiere at Temple Church on 27th October.

A piece in the Inn’s year book, penned by the former reader and now treasurer of Inner Temple, His Honour Judge Cryan, notes how as refuges from the blaze headed out of the City, Fleet Street filled with people and carts.

At the time, the Inn, he says, was thinly populated, due to the Long Vacation and fear of a return of the Great Plague of 1665, which had caused the cancellation of the ‘Summer Readings’, or lectures, for the second year running.

As Cryan recounts, the students who were in residence barred the gates of the Inn against the ‘lawless crowd’ and refusing to let anyone in ‘unless there was a barrister present’.

The Inn’s accounts show payments to its servants for watching during the fire and, Cryan notes, the Duke was permitted entrance and his efforts quelled the blaze.

*  Of All the People in All the World is in Inner Temple Hall until Sunday 4th September, 12-6pm weekdays and 12-8pm at the weekend.

* Tickets for And London Burned, sponsored by JM Finn & Co, on 27th, 28th and 29th October, can be bought at www.templemusic.org/main-events or on 020 7427 5641.

Treason? The trial of the Magna Carta barons

Clive Anderson as King John decries barons' treachery.
Clive Anderson as an indignant King John. Photograph: Kevin Leighton

After 800 years, what is the verdict on the actions of the barons at Runnymede in 1215?

The wheels of justice often turn slowly. Last Friday evening around 800 of the legal great and good attended Westminster Hall to witness the barons and bishops put on trial for treason 800 years after they forced King John to agree to the terms of Magna Carta, which limited his powers and paved the way for trial by jury.

In the event, organised by the UK Supreme Court and the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, the barons and bishops (who included coalition legal aid minister and Liberal peer Lord NcNally; Supreme Court Justice, Lord Clarke; former chairman of the Judicial Appointments Committee, Baroness Prashar; and Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, Bishop of Lincoln) were tried by three judges.

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Lord Neuberger chairs the tribunal. Photograph: Kevin Leighton

The tribunal was made up of Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer of the US Supreme Court, and Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Blackstone Chambers’ James Eadie QC, who acted for the government in the trial of Abu Hamza and in the dispute over the burial of King Richard III, put the case for the prosecution.

While Landmark Chambers’ Nathalie Lieven QC presented the case on behalf of the barons.

The BBC took centre stage, with newsman Gavin Esler narrating — slipping up slightly stating that the great Charter was sealed in 2015, before setting the record straight.

Former barrister and BBC broadcaster Clive Anderson stole the show – his ad-libs livening up the undoubtedly historically accurate, but sometimes wordy, script.

The reference made by the defence to the King’s actions to limit access to the courts by charging huge sums to bring law suits, intentionally echoed the actions of the government today.

And Eadie’s closing speech touched on the notion of having constitutional matters decided by a tribunal sitting in Europe and warned of the dangers of independent states within these fair islands.

Former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, played the part of intermediary William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, who remained loyal to the King and who is buried in Temple Church.

A highlight gleaned from the informative programme while the judges rose to consider their verdict was learning that someone at the Supreme Court holds the job title ‘messenger’. It was at one time held by Derek Allen, now an usher at the court, who played an usher, in the proceedings.

As Big Ben tolled 9 o’clock the judges returned with the verdict – all agreed that the barons were not guilty.

There are apparently three types of treason: lèse-majesté, unjustified threatening the King’s life or the betrayal of the realm or the army; proditio, unjustified default of duty which injured the King or any unjustified plotting against the King; and infidelitas, unjustified violation of an oath of fidelity to the King.

In relation to each type of treason, it is necessary to show that the action complained of was ‘unjustified’.

Concurring with his fellow judges, Neuberger said: ‘In all the circumstances, the prosecution has failed to show that the defendants’ actions were unjustified’.

There was widespread agreement with the verdict, though Sir Robert Worcester, Chairman of the Magna Carta Anniversary Committee, said the decision was ‘far from inevitable’.

But he said it shows how the bravery and determination of those barons eight hundred years ago ‘rings down the centuries as a justified act of rebellion’.

‘Those of us living today in democracies which take the rule of law seriously are reaping the benefits of the barons’ bold demonstration against King John’.

Professor David Carpenter, who played Baron FitzWalter and served as a historical advisor for the event, felt the country could have been spared the subsequent civil war, had the barons not humiliated the King after Runnymede, but agreed that the verdict broadly supporting Magna Carta was ‘absolutely right’.

However, Anderson, as you would expect, stood up for the King whom he said have been ‘astonished and possibly enraged’ by the verdict, and would be considering what further steps he could take to deal with the judges and the barons who defied his authority.

Esler reminded the audience, in an eilogue to the ficticious trial, that the 1215 Magna Carta did not last.

The Pope annulled it by papal bull and declared it ‘shameful, demeaning, injust and obtained under duress’.

Magna Carta was only saved by the deaths of the Pope and King John himself. His heir was a nine-year-old boy, Henry. The loyal barons elected William Marshal as Regent, who crowned the boy as King and immediately reissued the Charter under his own seal.

It doesn’t end there – the Charter was rejected and the war continued. At Lincoln in 1217, forces led by Marshal defeated the French and the rebel barons. Thereafter Marshal again reissued the Charter and it is that which was first called Magna Carta.

So, I guess that means we get to do all this again in two years’ time.

* A video of the proceedings will be available on the UK Supreme Court website later this week.

The Invisible

The InvisibleCan an Oscar-winning playwright and a former Eastenders actor succeed where placard-waving lawyers have failed, in drawing to the public’s attention the devastating impact of the legal aid cuts?

Far from the glamorous, high-octane legal world portrayed on the small screen in dramas like Silk and Judge Deed, Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play is more mundane.

It centres on the travails of an over-worked, underpaid, middle-aged housing and immigration solicitor, battling to help marginalised and increasingly desperate clients and keep her London law centre open in the post LASPO (Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders ACT 2012) era.

The drama plays out on a sparse set with copious pages from legal aid application forms dangling like bureaucratic bunting overhead.

The Invisible

Through the stories of three troubled souls in need of legal help, the play’s sometimes laboured dialogue attempts to demonstrate the impact of the cuts on those denied access to legal advice and on the tough but caring lawyer, Gail, portrayed ably by Alexandra Galbraith.

The background is, for the most, well researched and attention to detail is good, though the occasional error or exaggeration creeps in. Contrary to the dialogue, the legal aid budget has not been cut by two-thirds, judges have not gone out on strike in protest over the cuts and struggling supermarket giant Tesco has not indicated a desire to diversify into legal services.

In seeking to get across the worthy message that the cuts are bad, the theme in the two-and-a-half- hour performance is at times hammered home rather too forcefully.

And with no countervailing voice, the play, which is sponsored by the Law Society, leaves itself open to be dismissed by the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts as an ‘advertorial’. Particularly as the wife of the theatre’s artistic director, Mandani Younis, is a criminal defence lawyer in Bradford.

The InvisibleThe scenes are interspersed with curious music and movement and, while the characters are somewhat caricatured, the acting is good. Although oddly, Sirine Saba plays a battered Pakistani wife with a Pukka English accent for most of the play   before switching to an Asian cadence in the scene when she is driven to seek help.

And there is a stereotypical portrayal of the medical profession’s equivalent of a fat cat lawyer – an ageing, pompous quack – that the legal aid lawyers would baulk at if they were depicted in a similar style.

Lenkiewicz, whose play Ida won best foreign language film at the recent Oscars, ultimately runs up against the problem that has hampered lawyers from getting their message across – finding the right cases to get the middle classes and Red Top readers to sit up and take notice.

The protagonists – an elderly drunken Irishman struggling to pay his rent, a father (Nicholas Bailey, best-known for playing Dr Trueman in Eastenders) denied access to his children after cheating on his wife and a Pakistani immigrant abused and enslaved by her husband and mother-in-law – are unlikely to do so.

Whether Lenkiewicz succeeds in spreading the word depends on whether the play is seen by an audience wider than legal aid lawyers and Guardian readers. I recognised a large number of the bums on seats the night I went. But there had been a discussion beforehand attended by leading legal aid lawyers, so the audience may have been unusually over-lawyered.

* The plays runs at the Bush Theatre, London until 15 August