Jury Play, Grid Iron’s new production, focusing on the research of Dr. Jenny Scott, is one of a few plays in Edinburgh attempting to take an issue of public policy to a more accessible forum. The ambitious 140 minute production takes on the issue of jury engagement by focusing a trial on the experience of the jury members, questioning the strict rules and regulations which govern the criminal justice system.
The show provokes some important questions, covering qualms from the lack of interaction to the poor seating jurors are subjected to. From the moment you walk into the theatre through a mock metal detector, you are meant to feel as though you are entering a courtroom. Audience members have the option of tearing a card in two to submit their numbers for jury duty.
This is where the immersion goes awry: though the many interactive media elements are engaging and interesting, they ultimately fail to integrate smoothly into the plot of the play. The jury selection process, a dry series of numbers are read aloud and the audience jostling as jurors stand to assume their posts on stage, takes ten minutes.
Afterwards, the jurors are rarely used in their capacity as audience members. Though they disappear backstage for a long period of time while the much larger “public gallery” is entertained by text scrolling on a screen, the instructions they were issued rarely result in impressive activity. They stand up and sit back down to represent the passage of time, or pull cobwebs over themselves in periods of boredom, but never do they interact with the piece in a meaningful way. Ultimately, the process of selecting jurors from the audience seems more like an overly complicated gimmick rather than a powerful theatrical tool.
The actors themselves were very talented, though the characters written gave them little to work with. John Bett made an excellent judge, perfectly delivering well-needed humour in rare intervals, and Helen Mackay, as a misleadingly planted juror, stole the stage once she emerged from her seat in the end of the first half.
A comprehensive set and some painful pacing goes a long way in conveying the tedium and disengagement of modern court, but the contrast with theatrical courtroom dramas promised by Dr. Scott’s research never takes place. Rather, the play delves from illustration to explanation, and while highly informative and innovative, this explanation fails to truly engage in the way that theatre should and even comes across as patronising at times.
Nevertheless, this first take on an important issue bursts with merit from Grid Iron’s impressively localised plot to Dr. Scott’s nuanced research. With more attention to timing and plot, this play has the makings of a powerful piece.
Run Ends 7th October
Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic