March 22-28, 1989
Boswell For The Defence
Melbourne Malcolm C. Cooke, in association wilh Victorian Arts Center, presentation of a play in two acts by Patrick Edgeworth. Directed by Frank Hauser; settings, Kristian Frederickson; lighting, Richard Stuart; costumes, John Molloy; stage manager. Naomi Stevenson. Opened Feb. 24, '89, at the Playhouse Theater, Victorian Arts Center, Melbourne; $A33 top.
James Boswell.............Leo McKern
Inspired casting ensures this play of more interest than is usually afforded a solo piece, with Leo McKern's classy performance smoothing out the unevenness of the script.
With McKern's name above the title, "Boswell For The Defence" has instant appeal in Australia, the actor's country of origin, and possibly internationally. A West End engagement is planned for later this year, and both performance and subject maner should have appeal there.
Patrick Edgeworth has done his research thoroughly, and come up with what is likely an accurate study of the late life and times of James Boswell, the colorful Scottish barrister whose claim to fame was his 1791 biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson, and whose diaries have provided historians witb a vivid picture of late18th century life in England. The grosser aspects of Boswell's character get too much stress, however.
That kind of character study could have been curtailed, for it lacks any sense of the dramatic. Boswell's observations of his colleagues and rivals notably Johnson and secretary of state William Pitt reveal more about himself than the figures being poked fun at, and that aspect works well under McKern's assured handling. He's an actor whose every word is a joy to hear.
Finally in the second act attention turns to the main storyline Boswell's defence of an escaped woman convict on the grounds of her heroism. His re-enactment of his persuasive, passionate argument to Pitt to save her fram the gallows is captivating drama. If the convict strand was stronger in the first act, the play might be less flaccid.
"Boswell For The Defence" without a star would be a less memorable experience. Krug.