7:00am Wednesday 6th March 2013
By John Collins
WRITTEN by TV drama writer Tom Needham, The Rape Queen, a Clap Trap Productions performance at the Milton Rooms Studio in Malton, was at the same time dramatic, provocative and deeply moving.
Doubtless few in the sell-out audience were familiar with the subject matter, but the programme notes gave some startling background statistics on rape in the UK, turning the play into reality.
Caroline Bentham (Cal Stockbridge), a rising defence lawyer, began with an eloquent plea to the jury on behalf of her client, Tom Carlyle (Simon Waley), a school headteacher accused of rape. It was sprinkled with subtle slurs on the complainant’s character. After the acquittal, she appeared to reject the friendly suggestions from Carlyle that they should meet again socially.
Her cynical, unpleasant boss Paul Harwood (Mungo Arney), suggested she could specialise in such cases, and despite her righteous indignation, that’s exactly what she did. Her colleague Jenny (Katie Turner) was cynical.
Some years later, as a result of her new-found fame as The Rape Queen, she is asked to defend the same man on a similar charge, this time in connection with an assault some 28 years previously. Only recently had the woman he had allegedly raped, who as a result had a child, come forward.
The dramatic highlight of this play was the appearance in the dock of Megan Doyle (Jane Hollington). Her detailed account of that night so many years ago, of having a teenage crush on Tim, discovering pregnancy, subsequently being sent away from her family to have the child, and losing her after 10 minutes for adoption, was beautifully presented and quite tear-jerking.
Her later accounts of an unhappy life, filled with failures and alcohol, served only to strengthen our sympathy. Few of us could have envisaged what, after a life of denial, meeting one’s child of 27, not seen since birth, could have been like.
At the trial, Caroline Bentham was defending the accused Tim, and her colleague, Jenny, was leading the prosecution attack.
There was clearly tension in the audience, and yet – things got confusing. Caroline (change of heart, remorse?) privately handed a piece of paper to Katie, who subsequently introduced new information in court.
In a later angry scene, Tim accused Caroline of betraying him. There were hints of an improper relationship between the two. Eventually Tim was cleared on a majority verdict. This was a powerful, perplexing production. In the second trial, unlike the jury, we in the audience saw some of the background goings-on – but did either we, or they, reach a just conclusion?
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