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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Savoy

By Matt Wolf

  Edward Fox/PH: Nobby Clark

I'm getting on, you know, says the barrister, Morgenhall, played by an actor, Edward Fox, who himself seems to encapsulate an all-but-vanished age. But this comment, coming near the end of the first of the two John Mortimer plays that make up director Christopher Morahan's trying and overlong double-bill, could also speak to a style of drama - smug and chappish and possessed of that uniquely English sniggering about sex - in which these plays are marinated. Some will no doubt hail Legal Fictions as a throwback to a kind of glory era of the West End, though as the concurrent Harold Pinter double bill at the Comedy proves, a decades-old script can still sneak up on audiences with elan and command today. These one-acts, by contrast, seem vaguely embalmed and self-satisfied about their position, too, as if life had somehow passed the world of these scripts by, leaving few to mind, really, as they potter about in their garden debating issues of paternity and fussing about the gathering chill.

That's more or less the situation that drives the second of the two shows, Edwin, about a grown man whom, in fact, we never see. Instead, his nominal father, Fox here cast as a knighted, now-retired QC, finds himself wondering late in life whether it might in fact be his family's neighbor, Nicholas Woodeson's Tom, who sired a lad said (quite understandably) to have moved away. This is the sort of thing in which jokes about rogering - if you have to ask what that means, this most definitely won't be your proverbial cuppa - are accompanied by remarks about an unmarried son here described euphemistically as being artistic. Quite why Mortimer, a fearless champion of civil rights and no slouch when it comes to calling life's shots for what they are, felt the need to succumb to such coyness is just one of the questions raised by the evening. The other is what two such slender divertissements are doing in the barn-like art deco confines of the Savoy, where the need to boom out the truth-telling that propels Edwin forward makes a slight script look even frailer than it is. On the other hand, Fox's mannerisms are now so total that perhaps they need to be seen in as large an environment as possible: if you're going to ask twice for a definition of cereal, drawing three wildly deliberate syllables out of a word we once might have thought we knew, why not pitch such queries to the balcony while you still can - though on the evidence of the performance attended, you might well not find anyone up there to return the compliment.

True to the distinguished career of a writer steeped in the law, Edwin makes us the jury presided over by Fox in growly, not always readily comprehensible form as a retired judge apparently lost without cases to try. His voice seemingly issuing forth from somewhere well beneath the stage, he joins Woodeson in an attenuated parry and thrust interrupted at regular intervals by an ever-gracious Polly Adams, who proceeds to shiver at the cold and smile knowingly, as you would, too, if you were in unique possession of the identity of your son's father.

Adams doesn't appear in The Dock Brief, which, like Edwin, was first heard on the radio before getting a stage outing. That leaves Fox and Woodeson to go it alone entombed in a high-walled set from Mark Bailey that looks like something appropriate to Beckett's Endgame . Playing a Latin-speaking barrister who never married (at least this character's fate isn't merely to be described as artistic), Fox has come to the prison cell of Woodeson, who has been accused of murdering a cheery wife whos


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