The Tryal of George Washington
published: Mon, 25-Sep-2006 | updated: Wed, 4-Jan-2017
Lord Frederick North in The Tryal of George Washington by David Miller, David Prince, and Richard Hall at the Pioneers Museum, Colorado Springs. Directed by Richard Hall. June 2006. 4 performances.
This was a one-off kind of production, being presented by the El Paso County Bar Association and the Ben Wendelken Inn of Court as part of the Bar Association's 2006 Law Week. Essentially Judges David Miller and David Prince decided that they wanted to write a play exploring what might have happened if George Washington had been captured by the British forces at Yorktown in 1781 and had been brought back to England for trial on charges of treason, and they wanted to present it as part of the Law Week celebrations.
They encouraged Judge Richard Hall (who's now retired from the Bench) to help, since he's acted before and was also willing to direct. Richard Marold was then cast as Washington, Chris Lowell as Franklin, by which time my name had come up as being the perfect person to play Lord North (it must have been the accent). I well remember my initial read through with both Judges David in attendance: they were impressed by my cold-reading of the script.
We went through several drafts of the script, polishing and cutting to make it flow and fit a reasonable time. The authors wanted to have two possible endings: Washington being found guilty or not guilty, and so we had to rehearse both. The jury was to be chosen from the audience at each performance.
The cast were a mixture of first-timers (from the legal profession) and established actors in town and we did really well. Despite the dearth of money, we actually scrimped enough to have professional costumes and wigs and we looked rather resplendent. We were also highly fortunate to be able to perform in the main courtroom in the Pioneers Museum. This used to be the county courthouse, before the current courthouse was built in the seventies, and the main courtroom is beautifully panelled in dark wood, with the judge's bench on a dais at one end. We certainly felt as if we were in London in 1781 in the Royal Courts.
I actually got rather into the part. I did a whole bunch of research into the war and into the main protagonists to try and understand what it was all about and to appreciate the references in the play. To the American audience the references were all really obvious: Boston Tea Party, Lexington, Concord, Adams (Samuel and John), Benedict Arnold, Jefferson, and, of course, George Washington, but to me it was all hazy. For example, I never knew how important Benjamin Franklin was in the Revolutionary War, I just thought he was a gentleman scientist.
In essence, given the American audiences, I was the underdog in a way: I had to try and convince the jury of the validity of British viewpoint in the American War of Independence, when they had been taught from early schooldays that the British were just the bad guys. Period. Man, I gave it all I had, and the bit about the rebels firing on British troops as they returned to their barracks after Lexington and Concord almost had the jury convinced.
The first three performances found Washington not guilty, but Judge Miller (who'd cast himself as the foreman of the jury) swung the vote in the last performance to make Washington guilty. It was quite a laugh I must admit, but I will say that the first performance found Washington not guilty by only one vote, and without coercion at that.
|Lord Frederick North
|Julian M Bucknall
|Judge Lord Mansfield
|Peter W Booth
|Foreman of the Jury