The lawyers and the defendant are in situ as we are led into the courtroom, for we are the jury in the trial of Karen Andre (a brooding, intense performance by Francesca Secchi), accused of the murder of her boss, the business tycoon Bjorn Faulkner. Over the next two hours we hear evidence from the police, witnesses and associates and come to a decision about the guilt or innocence of the accused.
The White Bear is an ideal space for Ayn Rand's intense, claustrophobic clash of ideologies and minds in which we're very much part of the play, standing for the judge’s arrival and being addressed directly by the two lawyers. Jonathan Rigby has all the dignity and wit of a seasoned District Attorney, revealing a high moral tone, typical of the period (1930s), that is clearly biased against the woman in question.
David Mildon as the young defence Attorney has an intensity and passion that drives through the masks of respectability. This is the period of post-depression American, when bribery and corruption were rife in all levels of society but often permitted and the play forces the audience to question their own moral standpoints.
The cast are unanimously excellent, marshalled with great skill by director Jane
Moriarty; this is an ensemble piece and the range of American accents are well honed, indicating class and position as much as their British equivalents. Donavan Imber’s gangster Guts Regan is a superb piece of characterisation and comes across as the most human in many respects and thus highlighting the cold calculating lives of some of the other participants.
Did Karen kill her boss, having been displaced as his mistress by a new wife, or were there other forces at work? Who wanted him dead and why? His finances were in trouble, so was it suicide?
If you like to be challenged and entertained then go see this play and make up your own mind, based on the evidence you hear. The verdict may surprise you, but then you will have been complicit in it. It does leave you wondering what the verdicts were when it was originally a hit on Broadway in the 1930s - one can only speculate on the moral compass of the audiences of the time.