Tue 8th – Sat 12th May 2012


Rachel Hutchings

at 22:32 on 8th May 2012



The Burton Taylor studio was the ideal location for this ingenious and imaginative expose of the meaning of the phrase ‘court room drama.’ Written by Hanzla MacDonald, a second year undergraduate, ‘Court’ is set in a courtroom minutes before the commencement of a trial, the characters compiling of the defendant, the defence barrister, the prosecutor and two others, the latter’s involvement in the lives of the lawyers becoming apparent through the hilarious narration of the is he or isn’t he a mad murderer, Suleyman Jones.

The psychological analysis of the relationships that was created by the excellent comic timing and use of meta-theatre, or ‘mental theatre’ as described by Jones, as played by Tim Schneider whose impeccable wit and delivery was apt for the role, was intensified by the intimate environment and direct audience interaction. This began immediately with Suleyman taking the role of a stand-up comedian, introducing the audience to his story and its unravelling, unveiling by the end the bare bones of human morality and the burden of striving for justice.

Clichéd metaphors and analogies between the legal system and other phenomena revolving around waste, toilets, and cleanliness were removed by the ideal casting of Ibrahim Khan as the sinister defence lawyer, whose relationship with Suleyman provides some of the best on stage chemistry seen on an Oxford stage, the pair creating an amusing yet chilling rapport, which swells as the back story is revealed, straining the relationship of the defended and the defender. Also wonderful was Gabriel Nicklin’s stint as an aggrieved prisoner, who managed to entice sympathy from the audience whilst communicating the darkly humorous farce of the legal system.

What carried this production was the comedy, which managed to convey the message of the play without ruining its sincerity. Schneider was perfectly cast and performed his role with sensitivity and intelligence. If anything, he was almost too good, as any other scenes where he was reduced to a mere bystander as the confrontations between the other characters occurred, fell slightly flat in comparison to his previous monologues and banter with the audience. This was highlighted further by the fumbling of words by the other characters at important moments in the play, which altered the flow of the narrative slightly, but should be put down to opening night nerves and not the lack of ability or potential in the cast.

'Court' was one of the funniest and most creative plays I have seen at the Burton Taylor. The production’s experimentation with lighting and form, which incorporated a weird yet brilliant parody on modern religious conversion, was inspired, and MacDonald's writing should be commended as one of the most intuitive and perceptive commentaries on the human psyche and the role of law, and particularly its moral impact on the lives of people embroiled in its consequences. Overall, for a short student production, 'Court' was brilliant. It induced a lot of laughter through satire and parody, but sustained an intensely sincere explanation of human relationships through original and artistic production and acting, and is thoroughly worth a visit.


James Fennemore

at 10:00 on 9th May 2012



There’s something about the words ‘original law drama’ stamped onto the front of 'Court'’s rather staid poster that is a bit of a turn-off. Fortunately, Hanzla MacDonald’s production of new writing emphasises the ‘original’ over the ‘law’, and is a proficient and engaging piece of studio theatre.

'Court' manages to resist the formulaic, heavily moralising tendencies that plague legal based drama. Instead, the production focuses on the psychology and personalities of the characters involved in the case. Dubbed ‘mental-theatre’ by the defendant and quasi-narrator, Suleyman Jones (Tim Schneider) the process of the trial allows him to enter the consciousnesses of the two competing lawyers, and bring to the fore the dark back-story of the drama, about which we incrementally learn as the time wears on. The play’s form is, however, much more engaging than its content. Whilst the themes of corporate social responsibility, justice, and the treatment of criminals provide a sound enough backbone to the plot, the real interest of the play is derived from the manner in which it plays with the medium of theatre itself. It’s better than just meta. The layers of separate consciousness amongst which the plot is woven provide an excellently nuanced and original approach to a courtroom drama.

The writing is, at times, some of the best original work I’ve seen in Oxford. The play resists flat staleness by centring itself so much upon the enigmatic figure of Suleyman. Suleyman is more than simply the defendant of the case, and more than a detached narrator bridging the audience and the action of the play. The writing’s sophistication allows the entirety of the drama to bear the mark of Suleyman’s consciousness. His charming interplay with the lawyers is bright and entertaining, whilst the occasional narrative digressions – portraying, for example, his conversion to Islam – are a quirky insight into his enigmatic mind.

It often feels, however, that writer Hanzla MacDonald has been so interested and excited about his central character and the innovative structure of the play that he has neglected some of the other characters. Adil Aziz (Ibrahim Khan) though often sinister and intriguing, is much better when in snappy dialogue with Suleyman than when left to rhapsodise on his own. MacDonald has made the frustratingly common mistake of confusing characterisation with homosexuality in Fi Johnston’s character Harriet Macauley. Hopefully the characters of these two lawyers will lose some of their flatness over the run.

Both Gabriel Nicklin, who plays an apparition in the lawyers’ consciousnesses, and Tim Schneider give superb performances: Schneider has been given enough room by director Eamon Jubbawy to play to his comedic experience; Nicklin slides adeptly between his two characters with excellent verve and clarity of characterisation.

'Court', despite its small weaknesses, is definitely worth seeing for its excellent writing and original approach to legal theatre. Eamon Jubbawy has done a wonderful job in creating a skillful and interesting production.


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