Scotland’s definitive site-specific theatre makers Grid Iron have teamed up with Dr Jenny Scott to delve into some of the UK legal system’s shortcomings. Based on Scott’s PhD, which investigates how courtroom conventions affect the jury’s judgement and the resulting verdicts, Jury Play asks questions about existing legal conventions and whether they enable or actually scupper justice.
Speaking to Neil Cooper in The Herald, director Ben Harrison notes that the play was originally conceived as a site-specific performance. Difficulties getting the right permissions to play with a courtroom, however, led them to keep this particular play on the stage. Luckily, the immersive quality loses nothing by this locale change, as Grid Iron keep up a meticulous attention to detail throughout. Prior to the performance, we receive an email inviting us to court and detailing a dress code. When we arrive, we walk through a metal detector and are handed a guide to jury service (or, the play’s programme). The jury in the play are made up of members of the audience. This last innovation brings Scott’s critique of the British justice system to the fore – like real-life juries, the audience are at the mercy of the court’s staff, with incomplete knowledge of the play’s content (or the legal system) and general bewilderment over the legalese.
Pre-recorded dialogue gives us an insight into each juror’s thoughts, most of whom are preoccupied with worries about childcare, cigarette breaks, or the rare macabre details that break up an otherwise long and boring case. These voiceovers drown out the barristers’ speeches, showing how by not catering to the jury’s needs the evidence presented risks being missed or misinterpreted. Tradition is all well and good, but perhaps it is time to make jury’s more comfortable – both physically and mentally – so that they can give their proper attention to the case at hand.
Projections on the back of the stage demonstrate how our digital age warps and complicates the legal process. The judge warns his jury about consuming any material that might prejudice their verdict, and immediately the front page of a newspaper is shown on the screen. We see how in a society where we are constantly connected to the news by our devices, contempt of court is unavoidable. The legal system is in this way not fit for purpose in the modern world.