‘An Amusing Case’ at Law Week 2017: re-enact famous court cases

An Amusing Case was the polite header for columns of the absurd in daily newspapers throughout the Victorian era and into the twentieth century. As part of this month’s National Trust Australian Heritage Festival, this Law Week event re-enacts absurd laws and bizarre court cases from the archives of the justice system. 

In the sober surrounds of Melbourne’s Old Magistrates Court, members of the International Museum Theatre Alliance (Asia-Pacific) poke gentle fun at Victoria’s legal history through interactive performance. The cases range from 1850s to the present era — local noise laws, leaf-blowers, and dangerous dog signage topical cases. You can also be ‘put on trial’ and have your photo taken in the witness stand!

Our ‘acting’ Judge was Sir Bedlam Parry, a pun on the name of famous Melbourne Magistrate Sir Redmond Barry, who sentenced Ned Kelly. Cases drawn direct from history included ‘The Musical Dog’ (1925), ‘The Artificial Teeth’ (1898), ‘A Barrister’s Wig’ (1896) — and the matter of the sizing of women’s bathing wear at the Brighton Baths. (Neck-to-ankle. Still in currency, just not enforced!) I was in stitches as I quaffed my complimentary drink and nibbles amongst a group of edified attendees.

A team of historians, educators, and museum staff enact these cases, making good use of quick-costuming and effectively using the court furniture, with all its pomp and ostentation. At the show’s end, we hear of the group’s fact-hunting, giving historical context and touching detail about laws to protect the vulnerable. This material is too good to be fiction — the script is virtually verbatim transcription from original reporting. 

This performance made a pleasurable ass of the law. You will laugh so much you will wish you were in court more often!

– Sarah
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.

An Amusing Case shows 11 and 18 May, 6pm (60 mins) at The Old Magistrates Court. Purchase tickets here. A 30-minute legal panel runs on 18 May with a judge, police prosecutors, and barristers. The event is accessible.

Law Week runs 15–21 May 2017.

Check out The Australian Heritage Festival for other heritage event details.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were paying guests.
Image credit: The National Trust Old Melbourne Gaol.