Grid Iron is the Edinburgh theatre company renowned for their new-writing, site-specific productions. In this latest piece of work, Jury Play, the ever-flexible Traverse Theatre is transformed into a courtroom, giving the audience an opportunity to take part in their very own courtroom drama.
From start to finish, the experience is made as close to taking part in a spot of jury service as is possible to get without actually doing it. An official-looking email arrives in advance, sent from the Traverse Theatre, summoning the ticket purchaser to attend and including instructions of what to wear and what will happen at court, along with some relevant legal information.
On arrival, ballot papers are issued to those willing to serve on the jury and metal detecting screens need to be passed through before taking seats in the courtroom, with some, selected at random, having their bags checked. Brave souls now hand in their ballot papers and the play opens with the slow and deliberate selection of fifteen jurors who are asked, one by one, to leave their seats in the public gallery and take their places in the jury box. This will be an immersive experience for the whole audience, but a whole lot more interactive for those who are now ‘on stage’ and taking an active role in the process.
For co-writers Ben Harrison (also Co-Artistic Director of Grid Iron) and Dr Jenny Scott, upon whose research this production is based, the point is precisely to open up a debate about our system of law, raising problematic issues and questions, ultimately asking whether or not the current system could be made more fit for purpose.
Voice-overs provide a window into the thoughts that might be going through a juror’s mind - ‘what no fag breaks?’, or ‘will I get back in time to collect my child from school?’ - when they should be concentrating on the matter in hand. A recurring joke is how to wipe from memory the lurid headlines already glimpsed, the evidence the Judge requires you to ignore, ridiculously solved here through the use of large mind erasers that jurors rub over their foreheads.
During the second half things are messed up a bit, as different ways of addressing some of the more problematic issues are tried out. Judge and jury sit informally together, with jurors able to call and ask their own questions of witnesses, and clarify with the Judge the obscurantist Latin and legalese phrases that are unintelligible to the uninitiated: why say ‘locus’ when you could say ‘crime-scene’ and what exactly is meant by ‘reasonable doubt’? These things matter when it’s your life, your future, that hinges on these things being correctly understood.
Making a piece of theatre as dull as a day in a courtroom while maintaining an audience’s engagement is not easy to pull off. It helps that John Bett, as the Judge, is highly entertaining even when delivering ponderous tediousness, but this intriguing play gets you thinking and raises important questions for which there are, as yet, no answers.
Runs 4th – 7th Oct, £11-£22.