In a career spanning more than 30 years Tom Conti has won both the Tony and Olivier awards for best actor and been voted the most loved modern male performer in the West End, so when he talks up a stage production, he is someone whose opinion is worth listening to.
Huddled in the Congress Suite earlier this week, with near torrential rain beating on the nearby windows, the hugely-respected Scot was effervescent in his praise of Terence Frisby’s Rough Justice script. The sun may not have been out, but Conti’s enthusiasm for his latest role was enough to warm even the coldest of cockles.
“Honestly, when I first read it,” he said, “I could not put it down. I had been going through a lot of scripts when I came across it and it was great. I read it from start to end in one sitting. It was something I really wanted to be part of.”
Rough Justice is the story of a TV journalist who inadvertantly hits the headlines. Conti’s character, James Highwood, pleads guilty to manslaughter after taking someone’s life but ends up in the dock of the Old Bailey on trial for murder.
In a twist reminiscent of many a courtroom drama, Highwood decides to defend himself but, far from coying up to the intimidating judge, he ends up infuriating the very man who will decide his fate.
As Conti explained, “He really sets out to challenge the law and pushes the tolerance of the court to its limits.
“The judge is not used to be challenged so he is shocked by my character’s behaviour.
“As a Tv journalist he is usually the one who is in control of things but in a Court One of the Old Bailey, you don’t control things from the dock.”
Conti’s character has built his career on making documentaries which challenge the British justice system so the step from infront of the camera to in front of a jury is one which comes naturally to Highwood.
But, as Conti is quick to point out, this is no US drama style moment in the sun for his protagonist. In fact, his experience adds to his frustration and belief that something at the very heart of the law is wrong.
“He sets out to defend himself on the basis that the law should be fair,” explains Conti.
“He soon realises fair does not come into it. The law is black and white and the issue of fairness does matter.”
Conti agrees with the assessment that audiences are perhaps more ready to debate the efficiency and accountability of the powers that be. With the Hillsborough cover up fresh in the consciousness, people are more than ever questionning the actions and motives of those leading our justice system.
Conti has found theatre goers ready and willing to engage with the material playing out on the stage, he says, Rough Justice is exactly the sort of play which will entice reaction, whether you are sympathetic to its message or in complete disagreement with its direction.
“People leave the theatre arguing,” he said, “Rough Justice is a play which everyone can enjoy but it will also make you think. Nobody leaves without an oppinion.”
Rough Justice runs from Monday, October 22, until Sunday, October 27 with nightly performances and Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Tickets from £13.50 - call 412000 or visit the Devonshire Park theatre box office.