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All Rise: The Bradford Legal Heritage Radio Plays

24 Jul 2020

A team of judges, lawyers, magistrates and comedians have revived the much-loved Bradford Legal Heritage Plays from the ashes as part of this summer’s Bradford Fringe Festival.

For over 15 years the Legal Heritage plays were a highlight of the annual Heritage Weekend in Bradford. A team of Magistrates would re-enact historic legal cases from Bradford in the old court room in City Hall. Entertaining around 400 people each year, the queues to get in stretched through City Hall with many families returning year on year to learn about the courtroom antics of Bradfordians throughout history.

The plays were written for over 12 years by Gill Arnold JP DL (Deputy Head of the West Yorkshire Bench) and performed in full period costume by current and previous magistrates. Based on court reports ranging from the 14th to the 20th century, the genuine cases were fictionalised for performance. Past plays included the trial of a man who traded his wife for a pig and the pickpocket who prowled the aisles of the Alhambra Theatre in the year of its opening.

This year Gill has teamed up with Lydia Pearce of Broadway House Chambers and comedian Paisley Boyd to re-vitalise the most popular performances as a set of comedy radio plays. The plays are being broadcast on Bradford Community Broadcast Radio every Saturday at 6.00pm from 11th July for 4 weeks, they are also available on Facebook, YouTube and Spotify (links below).

The plays have been recorded with a cast of 34 local magistrates, judges, barristers, solicitors, court staff and law students. The writing team even managed to persuade star of Bradford pantomime for over 20 years, Billy Pearce to lend his talents to the productions playing a prosecutor and a villain.

Currently halfway through their run, the plays have had a tremendous reception, with the premiere being listened to by over 25 people, with more downloading and streaming the performances each week. With listener Lesley Powell writing in ‘Witty, original and entertaining, Fast become an early Saturday evening highlight. History made fascinating and who knew those in the legal profession had so many hidden talents!’

The enthusiasm of our listeners is matched by the enthusiasm of our performers with solicitor Amarpal Singh commenting ‘I thoroughly enjoyed performing on this protect. It was fun to spend time with friends over Zoom and all see a different side to each other as we put on this performance. The script was fantastic and I felt a lot of support from all those involved in bringing this together.’

This project is supported by Bradford Theatres and sponsored by Broadway House Chambers. Leah Taylor from Broadway House Chambers says ‘We are proud to play a part in bringing this part of Bradford legal tradition back to life. As the only chambers in Bradford we are committed to the city and it’s wonderful to be able to support this collaborative project including people from across the local legal community.’

The recording sessions took place over zoom over 3 consecutive evenings, each one becoming more raucous than the last! Many of the performers have commented how much they enjoyed not only being able to see colleagues after such a long time apart but also how they loved being able to participate in something completely different and uplifting during lockdown.

Laura Brooks, Director of Bradford Fringe has welcomed the collaboration with the legal community as both the arts and legal sector have been impacted by Covid-19. Whilst courts only just start to re-open and many of us have had to adapt to virtual hearings, theatres and performance spaces still lay dormant. Bradford Fringe Festival has responded by going entirely digital this year with an online programme of plays, stand-up and workshops. ‘Bringing history and humour together in a kaleidoscope of Theatre, Heritage and Comedy, The All Rise Radio plays have been one of the highlights of Bradford Fringe and I personally cannot wait to work with Lydia and the whole team behind All Rise again next year when hopefully they be played out in front of a live audience!’

You can access the All Rise: Bradford Legal Heritage Plays here:

If you enjoy All Rise, please consider donating to the Bradford Fringe Crowdfunder proceeds from which go to the Fringe at Home Project which delivers entertainment packs to families without digital access through foodbanks and community organisations.