Tables turn on journalist James

Carol Starks and Tom Conti in Rough Justice at the Theatre Royal Brighton.
Carol Starks and Tom Conti in Rough Justice at the Theatre Royal Brighton.
Share this article

Television journalist James Highwood has made his career out of challenging the British justice system in his documentary programmes.

Now, suddenly, it is James who is challenged when he is brought to court on a charge of murder. Highwood admits the killing but perversely chooses to defend himself, pushing the tolerance of the court to its limits and framing his defence in terms calculated to incense the judge.

Rough Justice (Theatre Royal Brighton, Monday-Saturday, October 8-13) stars Tom Conti in a play which passed Tom’s very simple test.

“I read it and I wanted to keep reading it. I read it in one go. The characters are very real.”

Tom is around half way through the tour – and the audience response has been great: “All the notices are terrific, and you sense that the audience are talking about it.”

In other words, it is most definitely not boring – the sad mistake that so much theatre makes, in Tom’s view. Tom believes that 80 per cent of the plays he sits through as an audience member are boring. He sits there counting the people who are fast asleep – which is funny until you consider the damage it is doing to the theatre.

“Amazingly the theatre just keeps on surviving all through my lifetime. There was a time when it was thought that TV would be the coup de grace. When TV took over, it hit the theatre badly for a bit, but the theatre carried on. And then it was hit by the internet. But the theatre just keeps soldiering on.

“But the greatest problem is people putting on stuff that is bad. You get bad stuff everywhere from the National to the touring circuit. When somebody goes to the theatre, particularly in London, it can cost them £200 with supper and with travel and parking.

“And if the bit in the middle of the evening – the play – is bad then that can put them off the theatre for years. The problem is that there is no benchmark. If you are a violinist, you have got to be a certain standard. If you can’t play properly, then you can’t do your job. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for actors and writers and directors!”