Rough Justice (review)
Euthanasia is an emotive subject that polarises public opinion - and so it proved when the controversial “mercy killing” of a profoundly brain damaged baby was the story-line in Terence Frisby’s compelling courtroom drama Rough Justice that opened at Milton Keynes Theatre last night (Monday).
Throughout the play, which was set in a crown court, the cast addressed the jury and it soon became apparent that they were us. I almost expected to be issued with scorecards so that we could deliver our verdict once we’d heard all the facts. As it was producer and star, Tom Conti, dispensed with the paperwork and asked for a show of hands.
Rough Justice was first produced 18 years ago yet the subject matter is as relevant then as now. So how do you feel when faced with the disturbing knowledge that a right-on, crusading, journalist, James Highwood, is appearing in court after admitting the manslaughter of his nine-month-old son, Cabbi (short, rather cruelly, for cabbage) The child was born, due to a genetic abnormality, with horrendous mental and physical handicaps that would bar him from ever having any quality of life - so his life had been snuffed out.
Highwood takes the moral high ground. Defending himself (always a stupid and reckless thing to do) the journo describes how, after searching the world for medical help for their son, he snapped and put the baby “out of its misery.”
But he hadn’t figured on the tenacity of a razor-sharp prosecuting QC, Margaret Casely (an entirely realistic Elizabeth Payne. She could step up to the bar at any time she wants a change of profession). She picks through his story and presents the jury/audience with a completely different scenario in which she harrowingly describes the four minutes it took for the murderer to commit the atrocity, holding a pillow over the struggling baby as it fought for life.
Highwood’s glamorous blonde, and much younger, wife, was pregnant at the time of the killing with the couple’s fourth child. Here they were, the almost perfect family - beautiful wife and two perfect children. Would Highwood have gone on to kill his soon to be born son if he too had revealed the same abnormalities as Cabbi? Just how far would he go for a designer family?
Of course there were a few bombshells along the way but if you’re a fan of gritty courtroom dramas then they don’t come more electrifying than this. The controversial subject matter even split husbands and wives in the audience who ended up squabbling over the verdict.
Conti produced a creditable performance as the man in the dock, giving his side of the story with a measured calm. Occasionally he displayed emotion, unexpected tears or humour, which served to bring moments of relief in a sombre story.
The judge (Royce Mills) seemed too likable - something unheard of in British Courts where the judiciary comes in for some harsh criticism - while even the prosecutor seemed reluctant to try a case that had seen protests from both camps picketing the courtroom and the Highwood family home.
Was there too much sympathy for the couple? Again, it depends on how you view a person’s rights to take the life of another.
It’s a story to set you thinking.
Rough Justice runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or go online www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes
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