SILK: The Clerk’s Room

Silk was a BBC TV series about lawyers (“silk”, I believe, referring to the higher status lawyers aspire to — Q.C.). Anyway, BBC Radio then did a spin-off of 45 min. dramas after the TV series was over (3 episodes in 2014 though whether more might be a possibility, I dunno) — possibly just called The Clerk‘s Room (as opposed to Silk: The Clerk‘s Room).

I’ve never seen the TV version, but I’m assuming it was a fairly typical legal series, so my impression is the radio version drew upon some of the same characters and actors (including Theo Barklem-Biggs, Amy Wren, John Macmillan, Neil Stuke, Jessica Henwick and others)  but inverted the formula. That is, the TV series was mainly about the lawyers, with their clerks as supporting players — while in the radio version, the focus is on the clerks, with the lawyers more the supporting players. In England (moreso than in Canada or the U.S.) the clerks can kind of be the power-behind-the-throne in chambers (ie: law offices) as they organize schedules and dole out briefs according to what lawyer is available — so can have a big influence on how the office is run and even a lawyer’s career.

Each of the three episodes focused on a different junior clerk who narrated (the episodes titled “Jake”, “Bethany” and “John”) so taking on aspects of anthology, and with some time perhaps between episodes. Jake is featured in “Jake”, is a significant supporting player in “Bethany”…yet is supposed to have quit the chambers by “John.”

And the result is quite strong. Tightly-paced and the different perspective on a legal drama providing a novel grist for stories — though it might be significant that arguably the strongest was “Bethany” which, in a way, hews the closest to being a more typical court room drama, as Bethany takes pity on a lawyer going through a slump (and whom the head clerk is deliberately trying to freeze out) and more actively helps him with his trial. But all three episodes are well acted and interesting dramas and, as I say, benefiting from utilizing the familiar legal milieu in an unfamiliar way.

And, as noted, I haven’t seen the TV series so although I’m sure familiarity with it would be a plus, in order to appreciate some of the background to the relationships, it’s certainly not essential since I still found the stories quite compelling.

8

L.A. Theatre Works production recorded in 2012 of the play by Dustin Lance Black about the 2008 California court case involving Proposition 8 — a referendum proposal to ban same sex marriage (or more to the point: to strip that right that had previously been granted).

Part of the impetus for the play was that those arguing in favour of Equal Rights had wanted the trial broadcast to the public (as is often done in the U.S.) but the side arguing against gay marriage refused to agree (leading the makers of the play to present this as the story the anti-gay marriage side didn’t want the public to hear). The play is less a fictional dramatization than it is a recreation of key scenes and arguments, to essentially provide a public record of the trial (albeit trimmed to 90 min).

Initially intended both as an education in civil rights struggles and a fund raiser for Same Sex marriage rights, it was produced with all-star casts in New York and L.A. with this a recording of the L.A. show. Directed by Rob Reiner — yes, Rob Reiner — it’s a pretty heavy weight (all volunteer) cast, including George Clooney, Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch (as well as her fellow Glee castmates Chris Colfer and Matthew Morrison) and others. Because it‘s a recording of a stage performance, the audience will sometimes cheer or applaud when the actor comes on — but you have to wait till they speak to know what famous actor the audience is responding to! (Or to pick up on the “in joke” — the audience laughs knowingly when the character of the virulently anti-gay activist Maggie Gallagher appears, but it’s only when you realize the openly gay actress Lynch is playing her that you get the deliberately ironic casting).

Admittedly, given the nature of the script, a lot of the actors don’t necessarily get to shine in performances. Though with stand outs including Sheen, Bacon and Reilly, the latter two in essentially “villain” roles, so getting more colourful — and ultimately humorous — parts, with Bacon, as the lawyer against marriage rights, stumbling and stammering over the dubious logic of his own argument, and Reilly playing a particularly eccentric witness.

Of course the play has a bias (it was intended as a fund raiser, Reiner and others were actually involved in funding the court case the play is portraying, and the audience applauds vigorously at key speeches) and is most appealing for those who already support equal marriage rights. Yet if you’re on the fence, but open minded, the play is an interesting chance to hear the arguments (or lack thereof) made on either side. And as an example of civil rights trial theatre (think Inherit the Wind or 12 Angry Men) it’s fairly compelling — with some good dramatic moments, good emotional moments, and good funny moments. Though since based mainly on the court transcripts and ancillary interviews, it’s not like there are character sub-plots, or even closed door negotiations to be revealed. But ultimately, tightly paced and an effective court room drama.

The CD contains probably an hour of extras, including interviews with some of the cast, Black and Reiner, and the real life lawyers who argued for same sex marriage rights — and against Proposition 8 — David Boies and Theodore B. Olson.

PERRY MASON

Earl Stanley Gardner’s lawyer-detective first came to audio life in a 1930s radio series — though with curious results, as it was done as basically a soap opera, with Mason — and the crime element — present, but apparently not always dominant. When it morphed into a TV series, Gardner even refused to allow them to continue using the name, and it became…The Edge of Night (a long running soap opera). That seemed to be it for decades as far as “official”* audio productions (*more on that in a moment) until:

2010 when the Colonial Radio Theatre started producing full cast, feature-length adaptations of the original novels. Though faithful to the books, fans of the popular (and arguably character defining) 1950s-1960s TV series with Raymond Burr might be a little surprised at this version of Perry — he’s flintier and more hard-boiled, and even more willing to bend the law. But they’re actually being true to the original books. And in other respects — fans of the TV series will feel right at home (same sort of cases, same supporting cast of Della Street, Paul Drake, etc.) as should fans of Gardner’s books.

They only made five (so far) which is too bad –’cause they’re highly enjoyable! That’s thanks, obviously in part, to simply sticking to Gardner’s original stories, with twists and turns, and also to a rapid fire pacing that never allows it to get dull (without feeling rushed or like the story is getting muddled by cramming it into the running time). And the lawyer-angle — as opposed to the hero being a cop or detective — gives the mysteries an extra twist, the cases often nicely convoluted, not just beginning with a body-in-the-library sort of thing.

Admittedly, at times the performances can seem a bit like actors in a community theatre — a talented community theatre, but still not quite top drawer stuff. Though Jerry Robins — who also directed — was effective as Perry. But although I’m saying some of the performers were a bit uneven…it was still perfectly good and despite a hard boiled Perry, equally evocative of the TV series (with the audio Paul Drake even sounding like TV‘s Drake). They CDs are well worth tracking down. The plays: The Case of The Sulky Girl, The Case of The Howling Dog, The Case of The Luck Legs, The Case of The Velvet Claws and The Case of The Curious Bride.

There’s one final — unofficial — addition to Perry Mason-in-audio: a few audio tracks of the popular, seminal TV series starring Raymond Burr sometimes float about the internet, popping up on Old Time Radio sites, though not official “audio” productions. The ones I’ve come across are The Case of The Angry Mourner, The Case of The Silent Partner, The Case of The Drowning Duck and The Case of The Restless Redhead. Because these are just the TV soundtracks, some of the action will be a bit confusing (as dramatic music plays and you aren’t sure what the actors are doing) but the talky nature of the Mason scripts means they still work surprisingly well, benefiting, of course, from the good scripts and from hearing the signature and fondly recalled actors in the roles. The Silent Partner perhaps suffers the most from the lack of visuals (a few scenes where action is occurring) but even it you can follow, and the others are surprisingly effective as audio dramas.