Trial And Error 2022 RLC Review

March 17, 2022

By Simon Spence QC

Court No 1 at the Old Bailey is the most famous criminal courtroom in the land. It is, therefore, perhaps not the first place you would think of for an evening of sketches, songs and re-enactments. But, to raise money for the Sheriffs’ and Recorders’ Fund, the ever-enterprising Peter Rook QC, retired Old Bailey judge, author of a leading law textbook and previous Head of Chambers of Red Lion Chambers, has put together an astonishing array of talent to entertain, amuse and provoke thought in equal measure.

Covering cases from 1885 to 1963, all of which took place on the very stage for tonight’s performance, we were treated to a range of oddball characters, ranging from the deranged W T Stead and Pemberton Billing (brilliantly portrayed by RLC’s very own David Etherington QC) to the sinister yet ludicrous William Joyce and a terrifying glimpse into the apartheid world of South Africa via the Inquest into the death of Steve Biko.

This is the 8th Trial and Error and each year it grows in ambition and professionalism. The mix of professionals and talented amateurs is what gives this show its unique flavour and merely serves to highlight the well-recognised overlap between the worlds of the theatre and the courtroom.

For me, one of the highlights of the show (funny and moving in equal measure) was a court scene from Rumpole of the Bailey with the spotlight shone on it by Leo McKern’s view of his famous character from his autobiography, read with obvious feeling by his daughter, Abigail. It offered an actor’s insight into a world he portrayed but was not part of and added a further dimension to the character of the consummate outsider, Horace Rumpole.

It is perhaps invidious to pick out individual moments in what was a true ensemble piece. If a law-based ‘variety show’ is possible (and I think it is!), this was it. Brilliantly devised, exceptionally performed and all in a very worthy cause. What is there possibly not to like? Ah, one thing: the peerless MD for the show, Colin Sell, had left Samantha with the friendly archivists so we still wait in anticipation to see what she looks like. Oh well, you can’t have everything, I guess!