The Dock Brief

The legal stage is not unlike the theatrical one. Rehearsed witnesses answer questions from practiced lawyers, in front of the critical eye of the judge. The various forces interacting in a courtroom create a kind of play, put on for the benefit of the jury/audience. This works, because usually the witnesses, defendant and lawyers are all trained sufficiently to be competent at their job. Usually.

The humour is in the contrast born from the happy-go-lucky dullness of the defendant as it battles the barrister’s stern, educated idiocy.

The Dock Brief is what happens when that assumption of competency is questioned. A two-man show, it involves the interaction of a lawyer who’s never gotten a case, and a defendant who is certainly guilty, and unwilling to do anything about it. The humour is in this contrast, born from the happy-go-lucky dullness of the defendant as it battles the barrister’s stern, educated idiocy. Add to that a dollop of sketch-style, high-pace jokes and a pinch of Monty Python miscommunication, and you have a recipe for a decent comedy.

The set was minimalistic, but really unnecessary. A few well-placed boxes stood for chair and ledges when the script called for them. This design leaves the actors entirely in control of the performance, and they performed admirably. The defendant, played by Cian Llewellyn, particularly impressed with his comic timing and characterisation.

As the two characters plan their attack, Llewellyn’s character acts every other part necessary to entirely recreate the courtroom scene. His brief stint as an imaginary judge, towel draped over his head as a wig, waving his hands with every word, was perhaps the funniest part of the play.

Compared to him, Al Duncan as the barrister seemed slow to warm into his role. He stumbled a few times in the first half, and his character remains relatively static as Llewellyn’s morphs. Only in the last quarter of the show does he really find his own. Partially, the script is to blame for this: his arc is firmly weighted towards the second half, and quick when it happens. But it would have been nice to see him change more subtly over time, to show more of what he offers at the end of the show.

As it stands, The Dock Brief comes off as a little monotonous. The plot doesn’t advance so much as run into a series of walls. And though it is funny, it doesn’t go anywhere, leaving it more like one sketch, stretched too long. It’s a decent comedy; no less, no more.

Reviews by Bennett Bonci

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

A barrister, who regrets not using his hard-won legal eloquence to better effect in his younger years, and an entrepreneur bird seed seller, who struggles to appreciate Christmas cracker jokes out of season. They meet by luck more than judgement in a cheerless cell almost within sight of Epping Forest. In this witty two-hander by the creator of Rumpole of The Bailey, set in a time when the practice of law was somewhat opaque and seldom straightforward, Al Duncan and Cian Llewellyn play the disheartened pair who take courage from their situation.