SILK 2016 puts integrity first
The Norman Manley Law School Students' Association puts on the dramatic production SILK annually, the legal minds in training taking a turn at the boards before being called to the bar. Earlier in December, this year's production, subtitled Trapped in the Courtroom, fused the accustomed drama at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, with the fabled drama of the courtroom before an approximately two-thirds capacity audience.
It would be unfair to assess SILK: Trapped in the Courtroom by the writing and acting standards of professional theatre, although the production did benefit from the considerable talents of a top-flight director in Douglas Prout. Even if viewed in the context of those engaged in theatre for a living, it was well above the level of the clumsy and persistently pedestrian.
As a morality play combining comedy, dance and drama with a touch (literally) or two of the mildly erotic in teaching lessons about professional integrity and being true to oneself, SILK: Trapped in the Courtroom made for a thoroughly enjoyable - though at points predictable and others far-fetched - evening or theatre.
The basic scenario unfolds with the unravelling of a high-level judge who conceals her lower socio-economic origins behind an acquired upper class accent and loads of legalese. She gets intimately involved with two crackerjack male lawyers, one a prosecutor determined to nail the accused (and his lady, in another sense) and the other a cocky defence attorney who will do anything to keep his acquittal record intact. It is no surprise that they despise each other - and this is even without knowing that they are dipping their wicks into the same bowl of oil.
The prime minister is assassinated by a Russian terrorist (I did say there was an element of the far-fetched) and, naturally, the case ends up before the judge with two lovers, one prosecuting and the other defending a silent, ominous accused killer. The tension rise and eventually there is a brawl in court as the judge and lawyers lose control, during which a policeman's gun falls and the accused gets hold of it and commits suicide in dramatic fashion (a good, unexpected twist in the tale).
In the final scene the fallen judge is hauled before a solemn trio of robed General Legal Council assessors and condemned to purgatory, the production ending with one rising to ask the audience, "Are you next?"
This is the final, definitive indication that Trapped in the Courtroom was expected to be presented to an audience of persons preparing for the legal profession. Others were the courtroom observation by students, an eye-opener as they are get up-close experience of a bigamist and habitual thief, as well as various characters who turn up (such as the aggressive wife of a man who just had to have two).
Much of the comedy comes from the lawmen, one who is
literally a sleeping policeman and the other with an over-the-top personality and much higher opinion of himself than his actual capabilities (hence the falling firearm and fatal gunshot in the courtroom). Then there is the judge's female pal, who is much more accepting of coming from the rougher side of town, providing the audience with some raw chat, short skirts, flouncing rump and crossed legs shots. Not so convincing as part of the plot is the secret supply which the judge's son gives one of her paramours in the cause of obtaining optimal courtroom results.
The legalese was there but not ponderous, and when a case involving LA Lewis and the KSAC was called up, it seemed more people than not got the graffiti joke. A club scene required some dancing, and the ladies of the cast go their turn to twirl en masse otherwise.
Throughout it all, SILK: Trapped in the Courtroom was consistent in its message of maintaining personal integrity, parameters within which professional integrity falls - literally, if the former is a faÁade.