A play comes to Leeds Crown Court next month which puts the audience in the place of the jury. Neil Hudson spoke to barrister turned actor Ginny Davis.
Ginny Davis has no qualms about performing in public. Indeed, as we sit in Brown’s for coffee – she’s just emerged from Leeds Crown Court after a meeting to plan the latest stop of her play, Learned Friends – she launches into a scene from one of her other plays, a one-woman show whose central character is called Ruth Rich.
“Ruth Rich is a middle class mum with three children, so she has a lot of pans on the boil. In the play, the kids cause chaos and so does the husband and she muddles through.”
But writing is something of a second career for the 63-year-old, because she spent her formative years in the legal profession, first as a solicitor’s clerk and later, after returning to university as a barrister.“I worked for a criminal solicitor and was absorbed by it, so I decided at 29 to go back to university. I applied to Cambridge, got in and came out with a first class honours degree, then qualified for The Bar and practised criminal law during the early 1990s.” But then family life intervened. She had three children with husband William, who is a judge, and it was during this period that she had a lightbulb moment. “I suddenly saw the funny side of having kids,” she explains. “I realised when anyone tells a story about their kids, everyone else is laughing. Partly out of relief that it’s not just them. So I started writing sketches for the school review. After a few years of doing that I thought I’m going to write a play, so I did.”
She took that – 10 Days That Shook The Kitchen – to the Edinburgh Fringe as a one-woman show in 2008 and it sold out. “It was nerve-wracking but after my first Edinburgh Fringe, I was hooked. It was the buzz of being in a theatre, of hearing them bringing in extra chairs and knowing it’s all for you… it’s an amazing feeling.”
Her latest play, which has been on tour for the last two years, sees her return to a subject she knows inside out: the law.
Learned Friends has more than one selling point. For starters, it’s a play which is set in a real court. She’s already taken it to The Old Bailey and several other courts up and down the land. Next month, it will arrive in Leeds.
“The play centres on the prosecution and the defence in the robing room while they wait for the jury to come back in at the trial of a football manager accused of wounding. They both have a secret and neither wants the other to know what it is. Inevitably, both secrets are exposed and this leads to a huge dilemma for the defence counsel.” She goes on: “She is confronted by a choice as to whether to honour her professional obligations or set them aside.”
Cue the next twist of the play, which sees the entire audience move into a real court room, with a random selection being chosen to act as jurors and ultimately determine the outcome of the play. “There are two endings,” explains Ginny, who clearly relishes her role as prosecution counsel, playing opposite Sharon Bayliss (who has appeared in Bergerac, Eastenders, Juliet Bravo). “There’s a certain drama just about being in a courtroom. Not everyone has been in one and from an actor’s point of view, it creates a unique atmosphere. For example, when the judge walks in, everyone automatically rises. No-one even questions they’re watching a play.”
Learned Friends, Leeds Crown Court, March 9, noon, 2.30pm, 5pm. learnedfriends.eventbrite.co.uk