A play about the impact of civil legal aid cuts does not necessarily scream ‘must see’ to people who aren’t legal aid lawyers. So how does one write a play about such an important subject that will appeal to a wider audience?
The answer, as award-winning playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s The Invisible shows, is not to focus principally on bashing former lord chancellor Chris Grayling (though there is a bit of that). Instead, she creates stories that reflect the experiences of ordinary people who desperately need legal help but feel ‘invisible’.
So desperate is Ken, a father who has not been allowed to see his children for months, that it emerges he chose Gail from a matchmaking site because she is a solicitor. ‘You asked me out on a date for legal advice?’ she shrieks incredulously. There is terrible comedy in it.
The eccentric and elderly Shaun, worried he will stop receiving housing benefit after he was overpaid, walks four miles to see Gail, who helped him once before, at her law centre. The scope of the cuts means she can’t help him anymore.
It’s only towards the end of the play that Gail meets Aisha, a victim of domestic abuse. Gail is her last hope after the police are unable to help her.
The lives of these characters will make the audience think about just some of the people lawyers deal with on a daily basis. That said, Lenkiewicz does not neglect to show Gail’s own struggles. Here is a lawyer who is passionate about her job yet is desperately trying to save her law centre from closure. She finds, as her date with Ken shows, that she can’t switch off from work even when she tries.
The play torpedoes the crass but enduring stereotype that the legal profession is full of ‘fat cat’ lawyers. ‘You go on robbing the country with your lawyer’s fees and charging people a hundred quid a letter,’ says Andy in what becomes yet another unsuccessful date. ‘You continue to be a legal parasite, Gail. You carry on with that and good luck to you in fleecing the nation.’
Lawyers know this is not true. But hopefully, seeing the cases that Gail deals with, non-lawyers in the audience will realise this too.
Monidipa Fouzder is a Gazette reporter
The Invisible is at the Bush Theatre, London, until 15 August