Bush Theatre, London
`When I was growing up the poor were seen as unfortunates. Now they’re seen as manipulative. Grasping. Scroungers. It’s very sad,’ says Shaun, visiting Gail, a Legal Aid Lawyer.
Shaun is one of Gail’s regulars, turning up when there’s no else he feels he can turn to. To Shaun, Gail is a heroic figure, helping him fight his corner against the authorities as she does for anyone in similar trouble. Since the passing of recent legislation – the much reviled Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 – legal aid for those at the bottom of the scale has been dramatically cut. Doreen Lawrence’s lawyer, Imran Khan, writes in the programme accompanying The Invisible that if he was presented with the case today, `I would have no choice but to turn her away’
It is the effect on ordinary lives of LASPO that Rebecca Lenkiewicz (whose screenplay, Ida, with Pawel Pawlikoski, won this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar) impressively highlights in her drama, both of the `invisible’ claimants unable to get full legal redress and the equally sapping constraints placed on over-worked lawyers and their staff.
Sadly, for all its good intentions, it’s not always a convincing ride. Lenkiewicz writes with spiky wit of her heroine, Gail’s encounters with two male dates she meets online – Nicholas Bailey as Ken, a father who has lost custody of his children and who chooses Gail precisely for her legal knowledge and Niall Buggy’s Andy, a struck off doctor whom Buggy endows with a wonderfully diffident if sexist charm.
But the mixing of Gail’s deeply personal troubles with her undoubted passion for fighting for the underdog plus surreal moments of fantasy don’t always sit well together. Alexandra Gilbreath gives Gail a sexy defensiveness whilst Sirine Saba as a sharp-tongued assistant doubles up movingly as a Pakistani wife suffering domestic violence. Buggy endows all his characters with an extra layer of poetic humanity.
That Lenkiewicz refuses to make Gail entirely laudable despite her obvious sympathy for her professional cause is to her everlasting credit. Despite its lapses, this is an important and humane play alerting us to the terrible inequalities now existing in our justice system.
The Invisible runs at the Bush Theatre to Aug 15, 2015
First published in Reviewsgate, July 2015