Beyond Reasonable Doubt

reviewed by Colin Lawrence


To celebrate their 100th production WCP decided to embark on an ambitious project. Jeffery Archer's West End success requires two interior sets, the Central Criminal Court of the Old Bailey and the Metcalfes' elaborate drawing room. Congratulations are due to Graham Perrett and his backstage team who managed the complex set change effortlessly. The play itself is a cleverly constructed piece of theatre which leads the audience from Sir David Metcalfe's trial for the murder of his wife back in time to the actual events which led to his wife's death. As Metcalfe Chris Shinn once again showed his versatility by portraying the eminent Welsh barrister in a totally credible manner. It would be easy to convince the audience of his guilt or innocence by playing the character either as an out and out boor or as a likeable individual crying out for sympathy. Chris 's portrayal trod the middle path to great effect. One moment we saw him as a calculating murderer, the next as a wronged man. Michael Williamson convincingly played his courtroom adversary Anthony Blair-Booth QC. His authoritative demeanour and attitude towards his fellow QC had just the right competitive edge. Linda Smith as the victim, Lady Metcalfe gave us a picture of a woman devoted to her husband while all too aware of her terminal illness and its effect on their relationship. In the supporting role of Lionel Hamilton, Mark Easterfield coloured the character with just the right shade of grey allowing us only fleeting glimpses of his warm-hearted and supportive friendship with Metcalfe. Val Furness as the Metcalfes' housekeeper, Mrs Rogers, proved her ability to play character parts for all they are worth. This was a strong, believable performance with only a hint of Mrs Danvers from Rebecca. Geoff Harrison and Linden Leeke as DCI Travers and Dr Weeden respectively added to the atmosphere of the court scene by playing these two professionals in a reserved yet confident manner. Andrew Creek as Metcalfe's Junior Robert Peirson completed the main cast. His relationship with Metcalfe was pitched at just the right level convincing us that he really was in awe of his mentor. Other speaking parts were played by Bill Bullivant a laconic and, at times, pedantic Judge, Jane Butcher, giving good support in the role of Cole, Blair-Booth's Junior, Roy Furness with the right measure of authority as the Court Usher and Stephen Batchelor (Clerk of the Court). Jane Randall (a very believable Stenographer) and Matthew Unwin (Prison Officer - who would not have got away with having his tunic unbuttoned in a real court of law) completed the cast. An excellent set, designed by Mark Easterfield with a good props team led by Garry Fowler added the icing on this centenary cake. Director Julie Petrucci had clearly worked hard to achieve the right balance in this difficult and unusual play. Courtroom scenes are by their very nature static, but Julie managed to animate the trial most effectively. The second act with its twists and turns was handled with equal dexterity. Waterbeach picked the right play to mark this milestone and can be well satisfied with the result.

reviewed by Mike Holland

WCP's choice of this play to celebrate their 100th production was ambitious, in that a major consideration of two completely different sets for Act 1 and 2 would be a strong challenge for any group. This linked with three major roles and a variety of strong supporting cameo roles tests the strengths - or weaknesses - of any group's skills. WCP not only succeeded admirably in all these areas, but also provided audiences with an evening of high quality, well-presented drama. Act 1, which takes place in the Central Criminal Court at The Old Bailey, requires extremely skillful reconstruction in order to gain any reasonable credibility. This WCP achieved with incredible success. This, according to the programme notes, was very much team-work, which continued to be the bench-mark for a great deal of this production. Had WCP not opened the curtains until the start of the play, I believe they would have had the same positive audience reaction as they gained for the beginning of Act 2. This was for the home of Sir David and Lady Metcalfe in Wimbledon - another stunning set! But settings alone do not make strong productions - positive and realistic characterisations are obviously extremely vital to any production's success. The cameo roles within this production were generally well handled with several newish members making their mark for the course of justice Particular mention should go to Val Furness as Mrs Rogers, the Metcalfe's housekeeper, who gave a strong well-timed portrayal, as required for this particular role. Geoff Harrison bought a realistic 90's approach to DCI Travers - a man with a definite arresting manner, whilst Andrew Creek as Robert Pierson, Metcalf's Junior, gave a competent performance; and although I felt he was rather young for this role, WCP have a definite asset with this young man. However, the three central roles within this play must bring conviction and authority to their characters, otherwise the whole production would be pointless. This they did beyond any doubt~ reasonable or otherwise ....~. Michael Williamson as Anthony Blair-Booth QC, prosecuting council, was very positive in his approach and conducted the audience - as the jury - through Act 1 with narrative purpose. Linda Smith as Lady Metcalfe, created a truly sympathetic feeling to this terminally ill character, with a mixture of real humility and love for her husband which came very much to the fore. All productions need a strong pivotal performance from the lead character - ino this case Sir David Metcalfe QC - played with total conviction by Chris Shinn. This is a major role that covers wide-ranging emotions. Whilst Chris was 'in power' in Act 1, he really came into his own 'at home' in Act 2 with a lively portrayal of this hard professional in court, becoming the caring husband at home. I particularly enjoyed both his 'lilting' accent and obvious enjoyment of quotes from Dylan Thomas. Julie Petrucci and her team worked very hard to accomplish this high standard courtroom drama. Congratulations to the company on the success of this 100th production. I hope that they enjoyed their well-earned final bottles of Mouton Rothschild - from the Metcalfe cellars!