The prolific writer Jeffrey Archer is most well-known for his crime novels and, perhaps, for those novels keeping his head above water while battling numerous criminal trials not unlike the ones he writes. Beyond Reasonable Doubt is one of his three stage plays and it sits firmly within his oeuvre as a court drama dealing out justice for murder.
Sir David Metcalfe, QC (Greg Kenyon) was a most esteemed barrister with an excellent reputation for getting his defendants off in seemingly damning circumstances. Now, he finds himself on the other side of the witness box, charged with the poisoning murder of his wife Lady Millicent Metcalfe (Glenda Kenyon). His arch rival Anthony Blair-Booth, QC (Jim Burns) is revelling in the irony but can he prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sir David did indeed kill his terminally ill wife? The first half of Jeffrey Archer’s script takes place during the trial and places the audience in the jury’s position, before the second half takes everyone back to the fateful night to see if the truth is as the prosecution painted it.
Director Jim Farrow leant into the dry intellectualism of the script with a realistic courtroom constructed in detail down to a typing stenographer (Sally Mason or Lee Wright) and a chummy quality to the boys’ club of the law demonstrated in the Metcalfe’s dinner party. The opening half was slow and drawn out, drip feeding information through witnesses like the angry housekeeper Mrs Rodgers (Valmai Farrow) and the faithful good doctor Dr Weeden (Allanah Jarman). The audience had a picture painted in impressions and interpretations with conflicting opinions and high-strung emotions before the second half laid everything in place, completing the puzzle.
After the stiff formalism of the courtroom, it was a relief to step into the Metcalfe’s immaculate living room of ornate furniture and tasteful decoration (set design by Jim Farrow, Nathan Farrow, and Greg Kenyon). The presence of Lady Millicent provided another element of relief from Sir David’s pride and his boastful conversation with colleagues Robert Pearson (Rickard Roach) and Lionel Hamilton (Graham Egan). But the tension remained as the time ticked by, getting closer and closer to Lady Millicent’s imminent death. Sound recordings by Kim Jones of the court proceedings punctuated the evening as a reminder of the many stories under construction and proving how well, or not, they slide together.
Under Farrow’s direction, the performances were sharp and dry with each swell of emotion not far from an undercutting smug chuckle. Valmai Farrow’s performance in the witness box was particularly convincing and it was humorous to see her evidence in play during the later scenes. Similarly, Greg Kenyon’s performance as the central perpetrator was an interesting compounding of the caring husband and the short-tempered lawyer, believable if often unlikeable. Other subtle social humour came through in the interactions between Roach and Egan which revealed the harsh underside of polite company. Finally, Glenda Kenyon shined through as the much-loved, much-mourned victim Lady Millicent, played with grace and elegance and a backbone to explain her respected position.
If it’s the details that get you, the tiny, unremarkable facts that pin the whole story together, then the unravelling of Beyond Reasonable Doubt will keep you pleasantly puzzled from end to beginning.
Beyond Reasonable Doubt is running at the Guild Theatre from February 11th – March 12th
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