Written by Jeffrey Archer, Beyond Reasonable Doubt is set in the Central Criminal Court of the Old Bailey, London. Sir David Metcalfe is the Chairman of the Bar Council and a distinguished QC. He is also on trial for the murder of his wife. Metcalfe has chosen to represent himself and must face his old prosecuting counsel rival: Sir Anthony Blair Booth QC.
Regular patrons of the 1812 Theatre would be accustomed to the high quality sets and attention to detail and in this latest offering they have met their own exceptionally high standards, eliciting some audible gasps from the audience as the curtains opened. The impressive set, designed by Robin Emmett, looked very much like a court room, with the audience serving as the jury.
A very clever lighting and sound design, by Robin Le Blond, created a sombre mood as the cast entered into the court room, which created the perfect tone for the commencement of the play. This was further aided by excellent costume design by Barb Talbot, Jayne Ruddick and Chris Hibberd.
There is no fourth wall in this play. The audience is welcomed as the jury and is asked to deliver its verdict by the end of the courtroom proceedings. The question posed is whether or not Sir David Metcalfe is guilty of murder, Beyond Reasonable Doubt.
Brett Hyland plays the accused Sir David Metcalfe, with an appropriate air of confidence and pompous arrogance, but with just enough sentiment, that leaves the audience divided on whether the character is guilty or innocent. By interval it would be easy to convince yourself either way.
His rival, Anthony Blair Booth, is played by Tim Byron, who delivers an equally confident and very believable portrayal as the prosecuting counsel.
The other members of the courtroom played by Graham Fly, Ian McMaster, Chris Hodson Adrian Lynch, Adam Richardson, Duncan Russell and Kaye Sharman (quietly typing away on her stenographer) are perfectly cast to create a very realistic courtroom scene.
There were a few somewhat stiff or wooden delivery of lines that sounded so right for the scene it was actually hard to determine if they were incredibly good actors, portraying very straight courtroom staff or actually wooden actors. Basically, it worked and created a surprising sense of realism.
James McCrae as Lionel Hamilton, Sir David Metcalfe’s longtime friend and associate, and Fred Barker as his trusted doctor, gave solid performances and were well suited to their roles.
Val Mitchelmore plays Mrs Rogers, the housekeeper who first came to the police with the information that lead to the arrest of her employer. Her character adds an interesting dimension to the storyline and how our perceptions can be altered if we only see and hear part of what is happening.
The final cast member is Stephanie King, who portrays Lady Metcalfe. She delivers a very powerful performance that will no doubt leave the audience ruminating over the storyline well after they have left the theatre.
At the end of the first act, the audience is asked for their verdict, by indicating either ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ on a ballot form in the foyer. The audience has therefore made their decisions before the truth is revealed in the second half of the play. The results of the audience ballot is then written on the chalkboard in the foyer. The opening night audience was very divided. Like any courtroom, the jury is asked to not discuss the circumstances of the case with anyone outside the court, so no spoilers here!
There were a number of opening night missed technical cues, that unfortunately broke the tension at some key moments, but these should improve with further performances. Similarly, a few lines were missed, but these were quickly picked up and overall the whole cast did an incredibly good job at delivering the very wordy chunks of dialogue.
This is a cleverly written play that has been well directed by Robin Miller. The engagement with the story from the audience was high, with many discussions amongst the audience during interval about whether or not the suspect was guilty. In particular, there was considerable use of the phrase “but was it beyond reasonable doubt?”
While the opening night wasn’t completely problem-free, the performances and technical cues will settle with a few more run-throughs.
The 1812 Theatre has delivered another strong production in Beyond Reasonable Doubt. It’s well worth a visit for anyone who likes a good thought-provoking who-dunnit.
Beyond Reasonable Doubt is playing at The 1812 Theatre until June 17th.