Thursday, 30 July 2015

Review - The Invisible at the Bush Theatre

The Invisible
The Invisible is a new play at The Bush Theatre by From Rebecca Lenkiewicz‎. It is a story about poverty and law, about the difficulties faced by those of very limited means seeking access to justice in an age of legal aid cuts.

What do you do if your benefit is cut, your housing is withdrawn, you are denied access to your children, you can't afford a solicitor and you don't understand how the legal system works?

I was a law student over twenty years ago, studying for the Bar in the early 1990s. Even back then, wiser and older heads proclaimed the un-wisdom of entering the poorly paid world of legal aid. Much more sensible to avoid crime and family law (except well-heeled divorce, of course), and steer yourself down the much more lucrative path of corporate or insurance-based litigation.

Criminals and poor people don't pay, and the government, as today, balked at throwing more money at a legal aid system whose demands seemed to grow bigger every year.

Fast forward to today, and the situation is much worse - so bad in fact that even barristers are going on strike, refusing to take on cases where they are often unable to afford even the cost of travel to represent a legally aid case.  Few of us like to lose money on a day's work. Of course, sympathy for fat cat lawyers isn't high on the public's list of concerns, but publicly funded legal aid work is a far cry from the bespoke and well-paid world of corporate clients.

The Invisible takes its name from the invisibility of the characters within it - individuals struggling to get heard or even noticed by a system whose funding is under continual threat.

The Bush Theatre has a strong track record of bringing powerful new writing to the stage, with ticket prices way below the cost of the West End.  Every play I have seen there has been powerful, well written and well-acted, and this one is no exception.

The play is not without problems. Some of the dialogue is clunky - though at other times arrestingly good - suggesting more than one hand at work.

Three of the actors play more than one part, and this was confusing at times - which character is this? Is this the same person we just met in the last scene, in a new dress, or is this someone new? But maybe I just need better spectacles.

What Invisible is not is light entertainment. Apart from a few genuinely funny scenes (a scene in which a character recalls his first encounter with a Fiesta magazine in a school playground made me laugh out loud), the overall tone is one of righteous indignation. Which, I suppose, is not surprising from a play that was partly sponsored by the Legal Action Group, a charity which "promotes equal access to justice for all members of society".

Whatever your view on government cuts, this is a play on a serious subject whose voice deserves to be heard.


The Invisible is playing at the Bush Theatre until 15 August.

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