Miles Kington: Sometimes you can get carried away with the period detail

Chattering. Laughing. Playing chequers. Whoring. Gambling. Spitting. It all helps to recreate a typical 18th-century evening
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The Independent Online

A very interesting trial is going on in the High Court at the moment, in front of Mr Justice Haslet, in which a man is being prosecuted for coughing during a classical concert. Well, actually, there is a little bit more to it than that, as we can find out by looking at a transcript of some of the opening day's proceedings.

Counsel: Your name is Augustus Camden?

Defendant: That is the name under which I perform, yes.

Counsel: What do you perform?

Defendant: Anything. Everything.

Counsel: That is a very vague answer.

Defendant: On the contrary, it is a very precise answer. I have specified everything.

Counsel: I see. So what exactly were you performing on a certain day in July last year, when you broke into a fit of coughing and had to be removed forcibly from the Wigmore Hall?

Defendant: The evening of the appearance of the Harlequin Baroque Ensemble, I believe?

Counsel: It was.

Defendant: As you know, the Harlequin Baroque Ensemble is a firm believer in authentic performance. They play on period instruments. They play without a conductor, as conductors did not exist in those days.

Counsel: True.

Defendant: Well, I similarly am a member of the Authentic Baroque Audience. We are a volunteer group who like to complete the authenticity of a modern baroque performance by behaving in an authentically 18th-century way.

Counsel: By which you mean...?

Defendant: Doing everything that an 18th-century audience would have. Chattering. Laughing. Eating. Drinking. Playing chequers. Whoring. Gambling. Spitting. Hawking. It all helps to recreate a typical 18th-century evening.

Counsel: That may well be, but how will this affect the enjoyment of those people who have gone there to enjoy the music?

Defendant: That is a very 21st- century attitude, if I may say so. In the 18th century, people did not go to concerts to enjoy the music.

Counsel: For what, then?

Defendant: To be fashionable. To be in the swim. To see and be seen. To exchange billets doux. Occasionally, to challenge each other to duels...

Counsel: Do you adopt 18th-century costume?

Defendant: Whenever it is practicable. Sometimes it is not a good idea.

Counsel: Why not?

Defendant: When they see us all dressed up, they sometimes try to eject us from the hall.

Counsel: Why?

Defendant: Because they seem to object to authentic audience performances.

Counsel: Very understandably so, if I may say so.

Voice from the Gallery: What do you know about it?

Chorus from the Gallery: Nothing!

Voice from the Gallery: What do we say?

Chorus from the Gallery: Shame!

Voice: What do we want?

Chorus: A retrial!

Judge: Just a moment, just a moment! I will not have this uproar in my court!

Chorus: Oh, yes, you will!

Judge: No, I will not! Who are you, who dare to make this interruption?

Voice: My Lord, we are members of the Movement for Authentic Period Public Gallery Performances. We try to recreate an authentic anarchic public gallery of 300 years ago, with all the heckling and hooting that that involves.

Judge: That might be logical if this were an 18th-century court...

Voice: Oh, but it is! The costume is 18th-century!

Chorus: The language is 18th-century! The hypocritical courtesy is 18th-century! Nobody in real life says: "May I respectfully suggest..."

Judge: This is intolerable! Have these people removed and whipped!

Voice: You cannot have us whipped!

Judge: Oh yes you can, if you are a member of the Judge Jeffries Appreciation Society! This is a pressure group whose aim is to bring back the no-nonsense brutality of the finest judge who ever drew breath, aye, who hung and quartered it too...

The case continues.

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