The Evidince I Shall Give @ The Peacock
April 27, 2010
Not staged at the Abbey since 1961 The Evidence I Shall Give is the latest in a series of productions held by the National Theatre to both remember the findings of the Ryan Report and reflect on the abuse revealed within state-funded and regulated institutions. Their treatment of this subject to date has made me quick to look for fault in anything that’s presented by Irish theatre practitioners so when I first read about this show I wondered just how Richard Johnson’s almost fifty year old courtroom drama could possibly have any relevance in light of what we now know. Since it was written by a District Court Judge, was a reading and not a staging and ran to almost two and a half hours I was fully prepared for a turgid night of theatre.
How wonderful to have my expectations so mercilessly shattered. A combination of shrewd casting by director Sophie Motley and clearly defined characters brought to life by an energetic cast left me utterly enthralled by this blithe, bewitching and eventually chilling piece of theatre which, taken in conjunction with Mary Rafferty’s No Escape, pushed me to intellectually and emotionally engage with a topic I thought I was well versed in.
Aside from anything else it was a fantastic evenings entertainment. Set in a courtroom on a day like any other, Johnson’s play slowly comes to life with its characters who go about their daily responsibilities with typical small town gruffness and cheer. He introduces the plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses and court workers connected to a variety of cases, gently setting a tone of innoxious regularity. Since the script hasn’t been seasoned with doom and gloom when the tragedy seeps through it tastes all the more bitter. Among the personalities we meet are the over bearing Mrs Brown and her son Jerome, fighting tooth and nail to avoid paying child support to a woman whose little mite the unwilling grandmother has already tried to father of onto two other fellas; The French fisherman the local solicitor wants to make an example of for “coming in and swiping the bread out of the mouths of the locals”; The Sergeant who wants to scutter of home by lunchtime but is waylayed by the ridiculous cases he has brought against local cyclists and then, the main case, that of a Mother Cecilia from St Malabars Orphanage who wants to transfer a 13 year old trouble maker from her care to an industrial school after a bout of bad behavior.
The cases are opened, left and returned to, humorously tied together by two sparring solicitors and a genial judge. The words are bandied about with astonishing ease by a cast who were so in sync with their roles I honestly forgot that they were reading from a page. It beggars belief to think that this reading was the result of only two days of rehearsals. And while the issue is never far from our minds the multiple sub plots keep us highly in tuned with the workings of the court.
But the good humor and joviality is done away with in the plays third act an exceptional showdown between the Mother Superior and a saintly solicitor in which the point and practices of the reform schools are openly debated. He condemns them for failing to show any human kindness to these children, to kiss or caress them like they would in any normal home. She slams his maudlin sentimentality, saying any such behaviour would be seen as a weakness and that if such flagrant breaking of the rules was tolerated such institutions would be unmanageable. It is magnificently handled and helps put us in touch with the human motives behind such monsterous actions.
That this should all come from a play written in 1961 disproves the belief that artists and audiences weren’t dealing with the issues at the time. What is of concern is that it wasn’t dealt with again for so long after, a sentiment perhaps ominously explained by the Mother General when she claims the court would not be bothered by such cases again.
There is a Wheelchair accesible performance tonight, Tuesday 27 April at Liberty Hall Theatre at 6pm.
Book for this performance on (01) 87 87 222