All the world's a stage
PUBLISHED: 01:16 21 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:44 20 February 2013
Ginny Davis ponders the similarities between those who strut and fret on two different stages
Hands up who thinks barristers and actors have similar jobs. Not me. Beyond a bit of fancy dress and speaking in public, I can think of few similarities.
Actors play roles. The best are able to transform themselves into wholly credible characters. You cant imagine that they are any different in real life, until you see them off screen or stage.
Sometimes the real life version is a disappointment. Who would you have for dinner? Mrs Doubtfire or Robin Williams? Maximus or Russell Crowe. James Bond or Daniel Craig. Actually, either would do in that case.
Barristers, however, are advised to refrain from roleplay and instil integrity into their cases. Those who bellow and posture their way through cases are known for their unsuccessful, albeit colourful careers.
Actors learn their script by heart. A cardinal rule of court advocacy is to do just the opposite. Barristers can use bullet points by all means, but should be ready to adjust their lines as the case twists and turns. In court is called thinking on your feet and it is good. In entertainment it is called ad libbing and it is dangerous.
Acting is artifice: taking an audience into a make believe world as they suspend their disbelief. Isnt that a perfect description of what a barrister aims to do? Actually, no. In the theatre the audience wants to buy into the pretence and willingly be led into realms of fantasy and fiction. In court, the jury is at pains to reject fantasy in favour of what persuades them, beyond reasonable doubt, is the truth.
But arent juries like an audience? Personally, given the choice between a group of people who want to be entertained and a group who will scrutinise, discuss and without apology reject my performance, I know which I would choose. Also, juries are not encouraged to applaud, which was always rather disappointment to me when I practised at the Bar.
Fear is the one emotion shared by barristers and actors alike. Throat-gripping fear of what happen when it all goes wrong. But they are not afraid of the same thing. One fears what he might say, the what he might not. Barristers dread being halted in full flow by the Judge, seated aloft, hunched and ready to pounce upon inaccuracy, misrepresentation or misconduct. The actors fear is of drying literally, drying up with a parched mouth as his next line escapes him and silence makes seconds feel like years.
Then which is more rewarding? The theatre or the Law? For me it has to be the theatre. As a criminal barrister in the early 1990s I considered that the job which most closely resembled my own was that of the domestic help. Both of us tidied up the mess other people created around themselves. Actors, on the other hand can be truly creative, unfettered by rules of evidence and procedure. Why then, I wonder, are the financial rewards of the less than celebrity A-list actor more similar to that of the domestic help than the average barrister?