Learning by experience is arguably the best way to understand. Here Grid Iron in association with the Traverse Theatre, give us the opportunity to see, hear and feel a murder trail through the eyes of a jury. I’ve seen Making a Murderer and watched bits of Oscar Pistorius’ lengthy court drama and I like many others believed the business of a murder trial to be gripping and fascinating. Not so, for we soon discover in this production that a high court trial is an interminably dull affair. As a staged piece it has to be clever though, to walk us through the essence of the tediousness involved, while still being entertaining. Director Ben Harrison and legal expert and writer Dr Jenny Scott ensure that this happens, simultaneously raising questions, exploring areas for change, presenting the reality of jurors’ journeys and making us laugh – a lot more than you’d expect with so much talk of murder.
Grid Iron are a highly inventive theatre company, renowned for their immersive work. In this, a great deal of detail goes into giving the illusion of a lifelike trip to court. Through considered staging techniques, props, actors and a well written script, they make it possible to feel the malaise and confusion often encountered by jurors. A particularly helpful effect, is the use of film showing the writer and director discussing their choices and reasons. The first section of the play is quite boring, other than the titillation of wondering who of the audience will be called up to serve on the live “jury” and what will happen to those who do. But, as explained by the creators, this is a necessary pre-amble for the audience to understand how disengaged jury members can find themselves even early into the trial.
Using audience members as part of an intrinsically embedded cast is no mean feat and somehow, in brief interludes backstage, the group are presumably given instructions that result in –relatively, give the scenario- complex ensemble work. It all adds to the realness and edginess of the performance.
Humour is a major tool in the entertainment factor and we see some excellent comic performances, most notably from John Bett, whose portrayal of the Judge is utterly believable, warm, subtle and particularly as his character evolves after the recess, completely hilarious. The premise of a satirical and somewhat critical look at the antiquated workings of the Judicial system could end up being a bit of a dig at it, but instead it comes across as a fair, inclusive and balanced discussion of the surrounding issues. Bett’s lovability and quick, gentleness and wit as the surprisingly open-minded legal veteran, helps us to retain a fully dimensional understanding of the humanity that can be found in the system.
Jury Play opens the door to dialogue in the legal system with this well thought out, intelligent and relatable piece. You may think a play about jurors is irrelevant, but if/when the day comes where you find yourself reporting to court (for whatever reason), you might just think again.
Jury Play runs at the Traverse Theatre until 7th October.