Nicholas Nickleby Brought to Trial!
Still in my first season as Public Relations Coordinator, I was looking forward to experiencing an Orlando Shakes mock trial firsthand. This year’s trial was the 6th annual event and featured characters from our current production of The Life & Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Parts I & II (playing in rotating repertory through March 9). Ticket holders were promised an exciting event, in which Dickensian hero Nicholas Nickleby (played by John P. Keller) was put on the stand, charged with the assault and battery of Headmaster Wackford Squeers. With my vivid recollection of countless episodes of Law & Order and my recent jury duty stint in my back pocket, I felt confident walking into the courtroom—err… Margeson Theater.
Following an interactive cocktail hour, the trial opened to a packed house on Tuesday, February 25. Arriving in style, Prosecutor Kim Ashby and Defense John Hamilton revolved on stage (via the Nickleby turntable) decked out in 70s era clothing. They later joked “We thought you meant 1970s!” when the year 1870 was introduced. But the playful atmosphere turned serious when the young orphan Smike (Stephen James Anthony) limped to the stand. Disfigured and gaunt, Smike described to a captive audience how he was beaten and mistreated by Mr. Squeers, and how Nicholas saved his life. The room was so silent you could have heard a pin drop!
Next on the stand was Mr. and Mrs. Squeers, played by Richard B. Watson and mock trial favorite Anne Hering. Not missing a beat, the plaintiff rolled on stage in a vintage wheel chair and neck brace. The couple rebuffed any mention of child abuse in their school, smiling at the audience with their rotting teeth and engaging in adolescent-like public displays of affection. Throughout the Squeers’ testimony, the defendant squirmed in his seat, frustrated over their attack on his moral character.
When it was finally Nicholas’ turn to take the stand, time was almost up. The truth ran from his mouth like a waterfall as he slashed through the Squeers’ lies, exposing them for the monsters they truly are. Nicholas explained that the only reason he attacked Mr. Squeers was to protect Smike, who, in Nicholas’ opinion, “would have died if the punishment continued”. Following Nickleby’s testimony, the advocates gave their closing arguments–Ms. Ashby’s creatively recited completely in prose. In his thick country accent, the Bailiff (hilariously played by Acting/Education Intern and Nicholas Nickleby cast member Jeffrey Todd Parrott) called for an advisory verdict from the audience. Using a show of hands, the packed house almost unanimously agreed that Nicholas was innocent.
Then all attention was drawn to the bridge scaffolding above the set, where the three judges sat in silence. One by one, The Right Honorable Julie Wolf, LaFontaine Oliver, and James A. Beckman each gave their final verdict: NOT GUILTY. The audience barely had a chance to applaud before Charles Dickens himself rose from the “grave” (trap door) to have the last word. Agreeing that Nickleby acted in heroism, the case was officially closed.
What a night! If you didn’t get the chance to make it to this year’s mock trial, I’d definitely recommend putting it on your calendar for next season. Whether you’re an avid theater-goer or new to live performance, it is a fun, interactive way to spend an evening. Until next time!
Public Relations Coordinator