Theatre review: Send for Paul Temple

Nigel Pascoe QC reviews the star-studded world premiere of a Paul Temple thriller, staged as a retro radio play for the recent Kalisher fundraising event

Michael Kalisher QC was an outstanding advocate and a generous, fair and delightful opponent. 

I was fortunate to be against him on a rare visit for me to the Bailey, not long before he died. It is entirely fitting that the Kalisher Trust named after him should have gone from strength to strength and done so much to help young and would-be advocates. Excellence, as always, is the name of the game and he would be very happy with its continuing success, now under the chairmanship of Max Hill QC. As a prelude to the evening, a 16-year-old student and a young pupil both explained with clarity and skill how the Trust has given each of them real help and encouragement.

A tradition has grown up of the major fundraising evening being presented by professional actors giving their services freely, in a performance directed by Joe Harmston. This year was a world premiere: an early and unperformed play by Francis Durbridge of a Paul Temple thriller, staged as a radio play. So from the outset we were invited to suspend belief and go back in time. It is worthwhile remembering just how popular Durbridge was, combining suspense and high drama with a cast of stage villains and the great and good of Scotland Yard. The secret was his real gift as a storyteller with a dash of romance and gentle humour. But this play would not have worked so well unless the cast had taken it wholly seriously; making it a faithful recreation of a radio play as it would have been staged in the days when newscasters still wore dinner jackets. So if they had played out front or to each other, then the spell would have been broken. In a very distinguished cast, necessarily some were a shade better at creating the exact atmosphere than others, but every single performance was well drawn and believable, within the ground rules of suspended belief. Spiced indeed with bygone flair, as the excellently designed programme put it, with more than a dash of derring-do. The plot defied short summary, but included murder, theft of expensive jewellery, night time skullduggery in a river warehouse and drinks fatally laced with poison. You get the picture. Quite like old times before television ruined it all.

Paul Temple was played absolutely straight with great skill by Stanley Tucci. Sophie Ward was absolutely in period and enchanting as his would-be wife. Hugh Dennis made a surprising but very convincing villain. Your correspondent was particularly taken by the very astute reading of Mark Farelly and Paul Hertzberg. But hats off to all cast members: Daniel Hill, Ray Fearon, a dedicated Trust supporter, the excellent Jason Watkins, Cassie Raine, Andrew Paul, Keith Myers, Sarah Berger, Martin Fisher and Simon Cole. The one barrister-turned-actor, Iain Christie, brought clipped distinction to both professions. Special praise to David Osmond, who operated the authentic Foley sound effects, managed a few lines and played the piano superbly. It would have been all too easy to garner cheap laughs by sending up that process and indeed the play itself. The skill of this director, Joe Harmston, is that he never allowed that to happen. One final clever stroke much appreciated by the audience: ‘Read all about it’ in the unlikely voices of Sir Christopher Rose, Lord Justice Leveson and Lord Clarke of Ston-Cum-Ebony. Beat that for extras! Altogether an exceptional and very well constructed evening.

Contributor: Nigel Pascoe QC, Counsel Editorial Board

The Kalisher Trust: a scholar’s view

“The [Kalisher] scholarship was a great help to me, and not just in monetary terms. I was at Bar school when I applied. All I was hearing at that time was that pupillage was impossible to secure, and that unless you were an Oxbridge graduate with private means, you may as well give up hope. 

“I wasn’t very impressive on paper – I went to a state school and a non-Russell Group university. I was raised in a single parent family until my teenage years, and we didn’t have much money. I worked as much as I could (largely waitressing, and then in a petrol station when I was at university), which didn’t leave much time for the kinds of extra-curricular activities and internships that look good on applications. I know how unimpressive I was on paper as I failed to secure even one pupillage interview that year.

“I remember being nervous before my interview with the Kalisher Board, but also thinking: ‘Well, you won’t get anything anyway, so you may as well just go in and enjoy it and think of it as good interview practice.’ When I went in, I was floored at how friendly the panel were, which enabled me to give it my best. 

“When I was given an award I was stunned. Not only was the money a huge help to me (it enabled me to pay off a good chunk of the debt I had taken on to pay for my Bar course), but it also gave me a much-needed confidence boost. It showed me that I did have ‘promise in a career at the criminal Bar’, and that I had as much chance as anyone of securing pupillage. Knowing that the panel saw a future for me at the Bar enabled me to be determined in carving that future out for myself.”  

A bursary from the Kalisher Trust in 2011 assisted Merry Van Woodenberg join the Bar; Merry obtained tenancy at 1-12 Bell Yard following the successful completion of her pupillage. 

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Nigel Pascoe QC

Nigel is a former leader of the Western Circuit, practises crime from Pump Court Chambers, and is a Master of Drama in the Inner Temple. He is on the editorial board of Counsel.