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The Judge


Evening Standard, 2nd March 1967, Milton Shulman


Judges are not the most lovable creatures and it is clear from “The Judge” at the Cambridge that John Mortimer, who wrote it and is a barrister, does not find them particularly endearing.


His central character, about to retire and taking his last assizes, returns to his hometown on a mysterious mission. Something is gnawing at his soul and he determined to exorcise it.


He is a vicious egotistical legislator, happiest when he is sniffing out crimes of lust and violence. He is convinced that his hometown is seething with corruption.


Shifting between allegory and realism, Mr Mortimer deliberately uncovers the judge’s secret in a series of relentless scenes that at times were somewhat reminiscent of a symbolic tale by Dürrenmatt


Long ago he had seduced a virgin, she had aborted the resultant child and gone off to live a decadent life on the Continent. She had come back to this town and was now proprietress of a brothel masquerading as an antique shop.


The ruin of this girl was a sin which he was now to expiate. He chastised himself as not being fit to judge and his stiff sentences on the bench were due to this feeling of guilt.


But apparently the judge’s guilt was completely unfounded. There was no illegitimate child, the girl was not ruined, and she was not a depraved creature as he had imagined.


Indeed what went on in the suspect antique shop is not altogether clear. Were those kissing games just innocent charades? Were those middle-aged men merely avuncular guardians to those leggy girls? Was Madame really selling girls or chipped pieces of Dresden?


Since the judge ends up as a raving lunatic, it is not easy to sort out which of these scenes we are to accept as real and which are fantasy.


Although there is an anecdotal compulsion about this play which keeps one listening and although Mr Mortimer’s dialogue is always civilised and elegant, the total impact is puzzling and disappointing.


Patrick Wymark’s playing the judge on a consistent note of harsh, unforgiving self-flagellation, becomes in the end rather ridiculous because his sense of morality and doom has no credible sense of proportion.


Patience Collier has an enigmatic role as the questionably corrupt female and she plays it to the hilt somewhat enigmatically. Michael Pennington, as the young barrister destined to be another unrelenting judge, has some very good moments.


Stuart Burge’s direction has not succeeded in sorting out some of the odd inconsistencies of this play. Less sultry atmosphere and less obscurity might have helped matters a good deal.


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