Two elderly men by a roaring fire: Top crime QC describes her Oxbridge interview in new play

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By Polly Botsford on

Review of The Robing Room, a monologue performed by and about Felicity Gerry QC

A new play dramatically weaves two storylines together: the personal experiences of complex crime barrister Felicity Gerry QC, from her humble beginnings as “an Essex girl” to high-flying a international lawyer, and one of her many dramatic court cases involving a rape and murder.

The Robing Room is written as a monologue by playwright Ness Lyons — who is a former employment lawyer and currently a legal consultant — and features a hilarious account of Gerry’s interview at an Oxbridge college.

In it, she describes the two elderly male interviewers: “They sat me by a roaring fire and interrogated me about the legal principles involved in a hypothetical situation: me stealing my own umbrella. It’s a famous scenario but I didn’t know it at the time — I hadn’t had any legal training! They kept on at me, asking questions, until I lost my temper, sparking like the flames in the grate, and said: ‘You teach me the law and I’ll tell you the answer.'”

Needless to say, the play’s central character continues: “I didn’t get in.”

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The play’s other story is both tragic and graphic: the true-story murder case of a woman who posted a ‘Lonely Hearts’ advertisement only to be raped and murdered by the man who answered the ad. Gerry acted for the prosecution in the case.

Lyons — who was commissioned by the First 100 Years project to write the ten-minute monologue — says that she wanted to “honour the victim in the case and her sad, tawdry death” as well as explore the “more human side of being a female barrister”.

The play was recently performed at a First 100 Years event held at Simmons & Simmons in London. The First 100 Years project celebrates the 100 years since women could practise as lawyers.

Gerry, who practises at Carmelite Chambers in London and also teaches in Australia, tells Legal Cheek:

“Lyons has managed to put together my own personal experiences with what I do as a barrister. It combines my emotional story with the court’s more clinical story. Courts are forensic, they have to be; you are professional at all times and keep your emotions apart. But of course real life isn’t like that. I am not really like that. This play demonstrates that.”

After her Oxbridge debacle, Gerry went on to study law at Kingston Polytechnic (now a university) and then at the Inns of Court School of Law (as City Law School was then known).

She is keen to stress that Oxbridge “is changing”, and has been invited to speak as part of a programme at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford to encourage pupils from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds to apply there.

Gerry also believes the bar is an excellent place for anyone who wants to do things in their own way and isn’t conformist (and doesn’t have the ‘right’ background): “You can talk to anyone and be anyone at the bar. It is full of interesting people and they all bring something different. I worked out that I will never ‘fit in’ at the bar but I also worked out that you don’t have to. You can plough your own furrow.”

Lyons is looking to develop The Robing Room into a wider piece. She has also just completed another full-length play entitled Bed of Shame about a first-year law student who is desperate to fit in. She is exposed and shamed on social media at a time when the whole campus is talking about — or refusing to talk about — consent: “The play explores how far she’ll go to get retribution and poses the question ‘just what is justice anyway?'”

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