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A Time To Kill

A TIME TO KILL. A New Courtroom Drama. Based on the classic bestseller by John Grishman, adapted for the stage by Rupert Holmes at the Golden Theatre, Broadway, New York.

A TIME TO KILL is a new play adapted by Rupert Holmes from the first novel of John Grisham (1989). It has also been made into a film (1999) with Kevin Spacey, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson. This is a classic Broadway commercial venture and the reason I went to see it.

It is a courtroom drama and has all the sensational twists and turns of that genre, interspersed with the tensions of racism in a Mississippi city. Directed by Ethan McSweeny, with a huge and elegant design by James Noone – the best element of this venture for me – that includes a towering wooden cyclorama and rows and rows of flying scene-locations, and trucks of furnishings, with some video projections (Jeff Sugg), that gives the whole venture a feeling of lavish scale and ‘class’.

The performances led by Sebastian Arcelus (John Brigance), Patrick Page (Rufus R. Buckley), Ashley Williams (Ellen Roark), and John Douglas Thompson (Carl Lee Hailey) are all brusquely played with the clear shapes and edge of the usual character types of this material. The sheer professionalism and ease of their work is bracing in its clarity and story book telling, and well supported by the other eleven actors involved in creating the functionaries that populate the court and the rest of the society, so as to give the production a keen sense of familiar recognition of this world.

The play is a well crafted example of the courtroom form. It is a crowd pleaser with all the tension, humour, politics and storytelling rewards that cause the audience to hold their breath, laugh out loud, make satisfied judgements of character expectations and gasp with the ups-and-downs, twists and turns of what happens on the stage. “Oh, no.” Yes!” “Ha, gotcha!”: examples of the audience responses. It has pleasing grandstanding speeches and relievedly, politically correct solutions with just a soupcon of political cynicism to make us all feel good about ourselves and rewarded to see justice being so well served in the face of so many dreadful societal obstacles.

Horses for Courses, of course. My parents loved Agatha Christie (so do I) and my peers clearly love the novels of John Grisham (I hardly know them) and will enjoy this stage adaption, as their parents did with the Christie repertoire (and still do e.g. THE MOUSETRAP). You know what you are going to get at the Golden Theatre, and you get it with great respect and no expense spared. Aimed at popular response it is an admirable example of utter commercialism in the straight theatre of the Broadway theatre experience. I kind of enjoyed myself, watching the magic of theatre storytelling working around me.

I saw this production in a preview week.