Obiter hasn’t always been Sir Brian Leveson’s greatest fan (older readers may remember that business of the inquiry into the press) but our hat is off to the president of the Queen's Bench for agreeing to play the role of a literal-minded reactionary judge last night. The occasion was the world premier of Alex Giles' new play The Disappearance of Miss Bebb at Middle Temple Hall, in aid of bar inclusion charity the Kalisher Trust.
Leveson appeared as Mr Justice Joyce, who in 1913, ruled in Bebb v The Law Society that women were incapable of carrying out a public function in common law and thus would not be ’persons’ within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843. While Joyce may have been legally correct in that it was up to parliament to amend the statute, it is fair to say his was not a sympathetic character. The judiciary’s other cameo player, Lady Hale, drew a more crowd-pleasing role, that of suffragist Chrystal Macmillan. However to Obiter's eye the Supreme Court justice came over as perhaps a little too mild mannered.
As for the professional cast, Laura Main was convincing as the diminutive Gwyneth Bebb and Martin Shaw commanding as lord chancellor Buckmaster. Hugh Dennis was a little diffident in his portrayal of Bebb's supporter, Durham MP John Hill - but that's the trouble with playing the good guys.
The play itself? Perfect for an audience equipped to deal with a plot involving multiple stages of serial legal actions and (mainly abortive) attempts to pass legislation. However its staging as a radio broadcast (albeit with exceptionally good sound effects) might not have enough changes of pace for a West End run. The poignant denouement, how Miss Bebb came to disappear despite her bitter sweet victory, would work anywhere, however. With or without HM Judiciary's involvement.