WINNER – BEST ORIGINAL PIECE – BIRMINGHAMFEST 2016
“Brilliantly acted, superbly devised and amazingly well written.” Alastair Hodge Master of the Bench, Inner Temple
A fascinating new play with echoes of “Twelve Angry Men” set within the context of a criminal trial. “Learned Friends” draws parallels between the worlds of football and the law and answers questions frequently put to barristers: What occurs when Judge and Counsel retire from the public areas of a criminal court while the jury deliberate their verdict? Can the advocates and judge be personal friends? Is it necessary for defence counsel to believe in/know his client’s innocence during a trial?
“A fascinating and gripping tale.” His Honour John Price
“Truly captivating, witty and engaging.”
“Brilliant! Thought-provoking, touching, wonderful!”
“Wonderfully complex and thought-provoking.”
“Excellent tension throughout. Realistic portrayal of criminal lawyers.”
“Witty, clever, believable, beautifully acted. An enthralling hour that sped by all too fast.”
“Beautifully crafted… intriguing and entertaining.”
“Fabulous show – packed with atmosphere. Totally convincing performances.”
“An excellent performance. A compelling story. ”
“Definitely left me with the impression that it is a good idea to steer well clear of the legal system.”
“Electric!” (Circuit Judge)
Prosecution and Defence counsel are awaiting a jury’s verdict in the trial of a high profile football manager. Irregularities in the case are revealed which threaten careers, relationships and the true course of justice.
Ginny Davis draws on her experience as a former practising barrister and a lifelong association with the law (father – solicitor, mother – JP, husband – High Court Judge) to draw a fascinating, revealing and authentic representation of criminal proceedings.
Director: Michael Bott (Skylight 2014) former member of RSC and National Theatre company
Artistic Adviser: Neil Reading (Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton)
Legal Advisor: Mr Justice William Davis
Sound and Lighting design: Tom Jude (Artrix Theatre, Bromsgrove)
Premiere – 29th November 2015 Warwick Crown Court, Northgate Street, Warwick CV34 4EW
LEARNED FRIENDS AT CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT
The courtroom is a tried and tested dramatic staple of stage, film and television. And while the British Crown court rarely moves at the sort of speed that screenplays would have you believe, there’s still plenty of spectacle to be had.
But as various legal dramas – most recently BBC1’s Silk by Peter Moffat – have realised, the true drama comes from the offstage moments, when the barristers are not in court and the real bunfighting can take place.
Into this world dives Learned Friends, predominantly set in an antechamber where two barristers – on opposite sides of an assault case in which a prominent football manager is in the dock – are awaiting the verdict. For this one-off performance of Ginny Davis’s play, a makeshift stage is created by cordoning off a lower corridor within London’s Central Criminal Court – more commonly known by the name it inherits from its street address, The Old Bailey.
As the opening moments of the play unfolds, it seems as if the prestige of the location is being paid for with echoing acoustics that rarely work in a production’s favour. But as the action revolves around just two women – Davis playing prosecution barrister Judith, against Sharon Baylis’s defense barrister Mandy – the duo’s exploration of some legal dilemmas comes across with clarity and not a little humour. The impression that these are two women who have been working alongside each other for many years, and who have become friends even as they have faced each other in court, comes across well.
And thus, when information comes to light that could render the whole case invalid, the potential personal consequences are as clear as the legal ones are muddy. Davis constructs a set of moral questions that offers no easy answer, with Baylis’s defence barrister in particular facing choices which could ruin either of the barristers’ careers.
Usual productions of Learned Friends, I understand, see the barristers exit their room to receive the verdict, and continue the action once they return, the consequences of Mandy’s decision playing out further. But in the Old Bailey, who could resist exploring this beautiful, historic venue further? And so, a new scene was inserted, with cast and audience promenading to Court No. 1 for the delivery of the verdict.
Even here, Mandy’s consultation with the defendant takes place out of the sight and hearing of the audience, so the bulk of the additional material takes place within a conversation between prosecution barrister Juith and Ella-Siobhan Barker’s court clerk.
The action returns to the original staging for its conclusion, a satisfying finale in which the true justice is done, but in which one feels for all parties. In Learned Friends, Davis has created a pair of believable characters, and produced a courtroom drama that feels more realistic than many screen presentations. The thrill of experiencing a play within the Old Bailey itself is great, but it’s nothing without a play deserving of the surroundings – and Learned Friends, a warm, witty and suspenseful work, is just that.
Learned Friends was at the Central Criminal Court on October 16. For more information including future performance dates, visit ginnydavis.com
Scott Matthewman Eyesawtheatre.com (Off West-End, London Fringe reviews)
Bridge House Theatre, Warwick
In May this year, I took a friend to see Ginny Davis’ play ‘Learned Friends’. This particular friend is a keen and highly critical theatre-goer, so I was hoping in advance that the performance wouldn’t disappoint. I needn’t have worried. Not only was the acting superb, the plot was wholly absorbing and the characters utterly believable. The dialogue in particular was fantastic: very witty with not a word wasted; every line either revealing character or moving the plot along. What I particularly enjoyed was the demands the play made of the audience, who could not remain passive bystanders. All of us were wholly invested in the outcome of the play, which pivoted on a highly unenviable moral dilemma faced by one of the characters. The Q&A afterwards was extremely entertaining and informative, as it lifted a lid on the closed world of barristers’ chambers and the intimate relationship between prosecution and defence. The members of the audience were completely polarised in their response to the play’s conclusion. My friend and I had a very lively debate about it on the way home, focusing entirely on the consequences of the character’s decision which to me is the best indication that she, like the rest of us, completely forgot she was watching a play. Instead, it was as if we were eavesdropping on a real life drama which had life-changing ramifications for all of the people concerned.
Editor of www.pennyshorts.com and author of ‘The Wrong’un’
GINNY PRESIDES OVER CLEVER SHOW
“Learned Friends” is the latest play by Ginny Davis, writer and performer of The Ruth Rich Saga, a series of five plays based on modern family life, which have graced many local theatres as well as the Edinburgh, Brighton and Buxton Fringe festivals.
Her new play is a two-hander and is excellently performed by the playwright, alongside Sharon Baylis (Emmerdale, The Bill, Eastenders, Juliet Bravo and Bergerac) as prosecution and defence barristers awaiting the return of the jury in a high-profile case.
What begins as a seemingly straightforward trial of a well-known sports personality develops into an engaging and thought-provoking study of the personalities and perspectives of those involved.
Unexpected twists and turns reveal new layers and complexities in the relationship between the barristers, and others. And, just as the audience is convinced by one line of argument, something new, and often surprising, is thrown into the ring.
The debate between the lawyers parallels some of what must have gone on in the courtroom only a few hours before, challenging and contrasting the legal debate with both moral and personal, sometimes intimate, perspectives. Ultimately the lawyers each make a choice which turns their professional and personal lives upside down.
The staging is minimalist and clever. Although we hear the voices of the judge, defendant and others, the two actors hold the stage with scene shifts marked by simple, but effective, use of lighting.
The opening few scenes weren’t perhaps as surefooted as they might be, but this was, after all, a preview and the audience was steadily drawn into the story which engaged and challenged.
STRATFORD-UPON-AVON HERALD 26 November 2015
INTELLIGENT AND ENGAGING DRAMA
A clever piece of theatre breathed life into the old wooden courtrooms at Warwick’s historic Crown Court. Writer and performer Ginny Davis’s play “Learned Friends” was a lively, intelligent legal cliff-hanger that really made the audience think, and involved them in the whole drama.
“Learned Friends” goes behind the scenes of a criminal court. Two women barristers await a jury’s verdict in the trial of a football manager. As events got more complicated, Ginny Davis and her terrific co-actor Sharon Baylis (Emmerdale, The Bill, Eastenders) ratcheted up the tension.
Then the audience was invited into the old courtroom, some to sit as the jury. Real-life High Court Judge, William Davis loomed over proceedings and the energy rose as the audience bobbed nervously to the command “Court Rise” and awaited the verdict.
Who doesn’t love a courtroom drama, but “Learned Friends” raises dilemmas that go beyond the law such as: Friendship or Duty? Right or Wrong? And just was is right and wrong anyway? It’s intelligent drama and an engaging way of doing theatre, one Ginny plans to continue exploring.
Leamington Spa Courier 4 December 2015
The production has received generous assistance from
Warwick District Council
King Henry VIII Endowed Trust, Warwick
Wright Hassell, Solicitors
Wareing and Company
Avonvale Veterinary Practice
Shakespeare’s Garage, Wellesbourne
R Locke & Co
Shah’s Restaurant Wellesbourne
Justina of Wellesbourne