The Dunsinane 2

A starry audience matched by an equally eminent cast, writes David Wurtzel.

On Sunday, 16 May the Great Hall of the Royal Courts of Justice was packed with people who normally appear there as counsel or sit there as judges. They had come for “The Dunsinane 2”, barrister-turned-writer Peter Moffat’s take on what a trial of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth would have looked like, had it happened in 2010.


This one-off special performance was in aid of the Kalisher Scholarship Fund, with the starry audience matched by an equally eminent cast of actors (and others) who generously donated their time, as did counsel: Anthony Arlidge QC prosecuting, and Bob Marshall-Andrews QC and Baroness Kennedy QC for the defence. For the attentive audience, aka jury, it was an evening of little law but much fun. It was also a challenge to pick up the many references to other Shakespeare plays, current events, previous parts played by the actors and Moffat’s own North Square, Criminal Justice and Criminal Justice 2.

Presiding somewhat imperiously was Martin Shaw, aka Judge John Deed in full-bottomed wig throughout, who dealt briskly with whatever submissions were made. The fact that the defendants were Scottish, the victims were Scottish, and the alleged murders took place in Scotland 1,000 years ago was held not to create any jurisdictional problems. The Macbeths were played by Matthew Macfadyen and Maxine Peake, who last appeared together in Criminal Justice 2 in which she stabs him to death. In the circumstances one hesitates to say that in this play there is a “cut throat defence”. Once more she fell back on being a battered wife (“it was an 11th century marriage”). Diminished responsibility (backed up by the evidence of two real psychiatrists) also played its part. During his evidence, Macbeth spouted the relevant speeches following the deaths of Tybalt, the princes in the Tower, and Desdemona, thus showing himself to be a man who took responsibility for murders he could not possibly have committed. He claimed that his previous counsel had given him his defence.

Another Moffat veteran was the North Square clerk Phil Davis, who trebled as the Porter, and as one of the trio of weird sisters and of arresting officers. As the Crown wished to rely on the evidence of Banquo, expert evidence was called on the reliability of ghosts. Up stepped Toby Stephens and Simon Russell Beale as Hamlets, who stood hesitantly in the witness box until Sir Derek Jacobi appeared from an upper balcony to shout “Swear!”

Further evidence was called from the historian Michael Wood who spoke of the “real” Macbeths. The jury (without deliberation) duly acquitted. The judge proceeded to sentence regardless. The poignant final comment was spoken by Simon Russell Beale as Shakespeare: “forget about me. Remember the words”.

David Wurtzel is Counsel’s Consultant Editor


The Kalisher Scholarship Trust

It is by now well known that the Kalisher Scholarship Trust exists to assist able but penurious candidates who might otherwise be lost to the Criminal Bar, writes Max Hardy.

The Kalisher Event has been a feature of recent years when it was realised that for the charity to have a prolonged future, fundraising would have to become part of its activities.

A very close relationship between the Bar and the Stage has developed whereby actors have readily and generously given up their time to perform.

Maxine Peake (Lady Macbeth) commented this year how fascinating it was for the actors to see the stars of the Bar in action, albeit in rather unusual circumstances, and it is evident that the actors enjoy themselves as much as the audience. This year’s event sold 500 tickets and raised £23,000 for the charity.

Anyone interested in the activities of the charity, or who would like to make a donation, should contact the secretary at max.hardy@9bedfordrow.co.uk

Max Hardy is a barrister at 9 Bedford Row

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David Wurtzel

David practised at the criminal Bar for 27 years and is a door tenant at 18 Red Lion Court. Prior to his retirement, he was a consultant in the CPD department at City Law School and consultant editor of Counsel. David is a member of the Counsel Editorial Board.