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If you’re looking for a good night out why not visit the Old Vic near Waterloo station? Set during the 1920s, Kevin Spacey is in the starring role as attorney Henry Drummond, who comes to a small town in Tennessee to defend a case brought against a local school teacher, Bertram Cates, after he is arrested for teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to his class.
David Troughton stars as Matthew Harrison Brady, the prosecuting attorney, who is very much supported by the whole bible-belt community and as soon as he arrives he has the support of the local reverend and mayor, and it’s not long before he has the support of the local judge. Kevin Spacey is greeted as the devil when he arrives and has a very much uphill struggle to put forward the case of his client.
The advocacy is typically American with objections thrown in, but the reasons for some of them have you laughing, and the examination is both funny and at times serious and emotional. The advocacy is interesting, particularly when the judge refuses to let Drummond (Spacey) call any expert evidence, saying he will only allow expert evidence based on the bible. Drummond calls just one, but very interesting witness - Matthew Harrison Brady, the prosecuting attorney takes the stand for cross examination, and the exchange between these two brilliant actors sets up the final conclusion of the play.
The scenery is very typical 1920s cosy mid-America, with ornate fans lazily swirling above the courtroom and members of the public waving theiry fans and mopping their brows in the summer heat. The stage itself is incredibly deep, representing the high street at times, and trailing away into the distance, which allows for actors to march and sing hymns towards the audience as they approach.
The acting itself is excellent, with some brilliant performances from both attorneys, who completely fall into character adopting nuances in their walking and even their breathing. Drummond is dry and witty while Harrison Brady is a devout believer in the bible and acts as a spokesperson for the town when he puts his case forward (very much with the support of the public in the benches behind the judge). Sonya Cassidy also deserves a mention, who brilliantly struggles between her love for Bertam Cates, and her loyalty with her father - the town’s reverend.
The ultimate lesson is less of a science/god argument than it is to debate the whole issue of freedom of thought and whether people, even in small town rural America, are allowed to think for themselves and speak openly about their thoughts. Whilst at first glance it appears that these are issues all dealt with nearly 100 years ago, they are very much issues that are still alive today, and director Trever Nunn highlights this to great effect, leaving you with the realisation that while a lot has changed, a lot of the issues alive then are still there today.
David Bywater is a solicitor in the commercial insurance team, Weightmans LLP.