I was cleaning out my briefcase today, and found the legal pad I'd kept on my table during the courtroom scenes in Agatha Christie's The Witness for the Prosecution last year. Solicitor John Mayhew, the part I played, spends the entire second act sitting at a table in the courtroom doing, essentially, nothing more strenuous than trying to stay awake. He doesn't have a single line, and about all he does is pass a piece of paper now and then, or glare at his client when he can't keep quiet.
And he scribbles on his pad. Quite a lot, apparently. I didn't remember what I wrote. Some of the notes had to do with the case as it unfolded on stage. Others wandered a bit. For example, the first sheet contained what I think might have a potential question for Sir Ian McKellan, though I'm pretty sure it was really a note for a play I've been working on sporadically for quite some time now.
"How does it feel to be one of the most important classically trained actors of your generation, and be most remembered for playing a character from a comic book?" There's a play in that, if I can just dig it out.
Most of the notes are obviously in character as Mayhew.
- Heard Vole? Does she know his voice?
- Blood evidence. H/S spatter? (Was that the test Holmes worked out in A Study in Scarlet?)
- Snobbish for a lower class type.
- Object strenuously.
- Tyburn? Central Gaol? (Where the gallows was before & where it was moved to.)
- Getting a bit emotional, what? Why? M'Naughton? (drawing of a weird teddy bear face.)
- Recall R Heilger. Meyers is objectionable.
Others not so much.
"The best part of this scene is that I never have to worry that I'm the one who needs to talk."
"Letters, we get letters,/We get lots and lots of letters!" Not sure if that was Romaine's love letters inspiring that, or the mention of cardigans bringing Perry Como to mind.
"Sam Patch sets new record." I have absolutely no idea where that one came from. He did set a new record that last time, but it killed him, so probably it doesn't count.
Then there was the odd note on how to possibly make some better looking wigs for the judge and barristers. This is one of those shows that needs a fairly hefty costume budget. Too much British TV these days, people actually know what the proper wigs and robes look like, and they are simply not available from the usual Halloween-type costume shops in the United States. The average price of a genuine barrister's wig is around £800. The major costume rental places (the ones in New York, mostly) have them, but even renting the things costs a fortune.
- Janet MacKenzie—housekeeper.
- Jumper pattern.
- Disraeli was younger than his wife? What did VR think?
- Romaine Heilger? Vole? Are the gipsies involved? (Obscure Marlene Dietrich reference.)
- Judge likes blonds? Dirty old man?
- French dead. Chisels. Lots of chisels. Glass.
- Badgering the witness, Mr. Meyers?
- Noisy old Colonel Blimp type, but louder. Posh cruise, no? "I didn't do it!"
- News reports may prejudice jury. His lordship admonishes jury to consider only evidence presented in court.
- Marriage certificate. How odd—a German marriage certificate written in English.
- £18/4/6 in bank. Why not on dole? Army rank?
- Seat people together, they react better. (Valuable advice in any theatre.)
- Cannot admit Disraeli's marriage to older woman. (Into evidence, I presume.)
- Outrageous outrage!!! Judge says shut up and just answer question.
- Small, stupid drawing of what a barrister's wig actually looks like.
- Meyers—murder! Has he got the hots for Vole? "Not unattractive." What would he think of my wife? I try not to, mind. After 43 years of marriage, I find she's not nearly as attractive as she was 18 stone ago. Fat old cow. Thank heaven for eager young legal secretaries. Home with Molly, I often look back fondly on the days on the bridge of my old Anemone, with nothing to worry about but U-boats, Stukas, and the odd German cruiser shooting at us. Much less worrisome.
- Court gets astonishingly boring at time. Is it too late to go back to being LCmdr John Mayhew, DSC, GM, etc., RNVR? Hurrah for the wavy navy!
- Can we turn Carmilla into a play? Maybe a musical? Lesbian vampires on stage! How delightfully kinky. And it's public domain.
- Now they bring up the lab tech to prove that blood is blood and, as both suspect and victim are of same serotype, inconclusive.
- Judge will now pontificate.
- The Distribution of Greater Tits in the United Kingdom, Illustrated. Very popular book, but frequently returned for some reason.
- Old bat seems a bit beligerant—or maybe she's just Scottish.
- It's just "cardigan," not "cardigan sweater." You're not American!!!
- Mrs. Vole/Heilger will now lie about nearly everything.
This is the sort of thing you do to make it look as if you're paying attention to the case, even though you have no lines. At one point, I obviously concocted a naval background for Mr. Mayhew during World War II, putting him in command of a Flower class corvette.
That pages were littered with lots of little drawings as well. A neat little gibbet here, a barrister in wig, gown, and bands. A wig pattern that actually looked more like some sort of Star Trek vessel than something you'd wear on your head. This is what actors do when given a part that doesn't have any lines (in that scene; he's got lots of lines elsewhere), and there's an excuse to doodle in character.