Judgement: Production History

Judgement was first given an experimental reading by Peter O’Toole at Bristol Old Vic in January, 1974. The first production was presented in September, 1975 by the National Theatre at the ICA, starring Colin Blakely and directed by Peter Hall.

George Dillon first performed Judgement for a three week run in an upstairs room of The Volunteer pub in Brighton in May 1990. In 1991 he took the production to the Edinburgh Fringe, and then toured it in the UK in the Spring of 1992.

In the Summer of 1989 George was working as an English teacher when, out of the blue, Steven Berkoff called and asked him to be his assistant director and play in the chorus for Salomé at the National Theatre later that year. Now dragged back into the Theatre, but with a chorus role unlikely to lead to more acting work, George decided to do two solo shows the following year, one in Brighton in May and one in Edinburgh in August – and for his very first solo performance he chose the ‘Everest’ of one-man plays – Barry Collins’s epic story of murder and cannibalism – Judgement.

In January 1990 Salomé transferred to the West End, but Berkoff agreed that George could leave the run two weeks early in order to perform solo in a small dining room above The Volunteer pub in Brighton.

Originally Laurence Boswell had agreed to direct the show, but when the time came Laurence had a better offer, so Dillon had to rehearse alone.

The run lasted three weeks from 8th-27th May and coincided with the Brighton Festival (this was twelve years before the Brighton Fringe organisation was formed). Each evening Dillon would clear out the tables, arrange the chairs, black out the windows and remove all the light bulbs except one and wait for the audiences to come. Ironically (given that it’s a story about seven people locked in a small space for a long time) he played to an average audience of six.

However that Summer, on the way up to Edinburgh, Dillon gave a performance of Judgement at the Chester Fringe, which received a rave review in the northern edition of The Guardian and led to a handful of dates for Judgement among his 21 date tour in Spring 1991.

In the Summer, encouraged by a conversation with Steven Berkoff, George decided at the last minute (ten days before the opening of the festival) to take Judgement to the Edinburgh Fringe and found that the the Randolph Studio was available for a full three week run in the last slot of the day – starting at 10pm and playing through midnight. Although Judgement was not listed in the Fringe Festival programme, on the back of his success in Edinburgh the previous year with Stunning the Punters, the show attracted early rave reviews from several national critics and by the end of the second week was selling out the 70 seat venue. One reason it did well is that, even though he had given a three hour performance ending at 1 am the previous night, Dillon was up at 7am every morning to take advantage of the scaffolding surrounding the queue to the Fringe box office by plastering each archway with flyers and photocopied reviews.

Judgement tour poster image
Judgement tour poster image

With two hit solo shows in his repertoire, in the Autumn of 1991 Dillon set about booking a tour of Judgement for the following Spring, when again Steven Berkoff comes into the story, this time asking George to join his company touring Salomé and The Trial to Japan. However, George’s father was at this time quite ill and whether through stoicism or through ignorance (or maybe fear) of the reality of his condition he wasn’t telling any of his three sons how seriously it really was. It was only when George explained to his father’s doctor that he had to choose between touring in the new year in the UK or being abroad for a couple of months and how his father’s prognosis was an important factor in making the choice and the doctor replied that he didn’t know if his father would still be here then that he learned that his father’s illness was terminal. Dillon turned down Berkoff’s offer (and didn’t act in Berkoff’s company again, although he did subsequently work with him as assistant director and they remained friends). When George’s father died two months later, in November, it was too late to take up Berkoff’s offer, as it would have meant cancelling his now booked 25 date solo tour (and probably not being asked back again by those touring venues).

Shortly after his father’s death, George was invited to play Edgar Allan Poe in a play off-off Broadway in New York by an American playwright who had seen him perform Judgement in Edinburgh. So before undertaking his 25-gig tour of Judgement, he flew to New York where he discovered that playwrights are often very bad self-producers, as the production didn’t actually have any venue booked, and after a few rehearsals the project fell apart. But through his identification with Poe’s double bereavement, Dillon found inspiration for what would later be his fourth solo show – The Remembrance of Edgar Allan Poe.

During that trip to New York he also saw a production by Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theatre which used radio mikes on stage to enable the actors to create disembodied conversational tones, a technique that Dillon was to use in his next production: Berkoff’s Hell.

In February 1992 Dillon started a gruelling 25-gig tour of Judgement (plus a trio of Stunning the Punters gigs).  As in Edinburgh, audiences at every venue on the tour, were advised before the start that the show would be three hours long without an interval and that if they left the auditorium before the end they would not be allowed back in (“So go to the loo now!”). 

Dillon’s self-portrait for the poster, screaming directly into the camera, was later copied onto T-shirts for a club night in Sheffield, called ‘Spleen’!

Spleen T-shirt
Spleen T-shirt

Given the darkness of the material and after witnessing the death of his own father, the three-hour performance was beginning to take its toll, and after reading back an interview he gave to the South Manchester Reporter in which he said – “The human species is doomed but there are some things worth mourning and theatre is an act of collective mourning for the extinction of the species” – Dillon decided not to continue touring Judgement for his own sanity. He gave the last of his 76 performances of the play on 11th April 1992 at The Premises in Norwich.