Creators: Joe Ball and Tom Black
As ‘fake news’ sweeps the globe, a triumphantly manipulative tool prioritised by ad-agencies, social media and (distressingly) politicians, more and more the dangers of this digital age manipulation grow. Toying with this concept, highlighting its intrusions in more than the public sphere, into the private, political, and judicial, Exit Production’s have crafted a spectacularly innovative, wily, and layered experience of live theatre with Jury Duty.
Everyone has an opinion, now more so than ever, but just how valuable is your judgement? Are barristers and law degrees worth their salt when Mitchell from Sunderland has seen every episode of The Good Wife? If people think they know better than the professionals, well, this is the opportunity to put those binged hours of Making A Murderer to the test. Jury Duty places you and several others in a virtual court, led by the Ministry of Justice themselves. So how will you find the accused?
A fire, a corpse, and a conspiracy which could sweep the news world and send the country into rebellion, Jury Duty focuses on a new fictitious style of court proceedings being trialled across the UK. A virtual jury will question, deduce, and pass judgement on the defence as part of the recently formed Justice Act (2020). The defendant, Harry Briggs, is accused of arson, manslaughter and murder, and as the jury splits themselves to dive through mountains of evidence, question the defendant and come together to forge a verdict, oddities emerge, stories fail to line up and maybe, just maybe, the experience will ripple from the screen and into your real life.
The intricate level of balancing a story,, where multiple players can throw a spanner into the works, elevates Jury Duty from a simplistic narrative into a complex production involving masterfully adept improvisation from Tom Black. Able to interact with the defendant is, of course, unusual for the jury, but the layout of Zoom and incorporation of liveness produces a diverse range from Black, who can respond to the good cops, the bad cops and the sympathetic cops with equal ability.
And while it may solely be Black onscreen, a more sinister presence is felt from The Coordinator, Joe Ball, who by the end of the session seems less orchestrator and more problematic. Involving multiple media, Jury Duty leeches itself into other avenues to force Jurors into their own espionage antics and trust exercises. Daring not to spoil an ounce, don’t be surprised if you begin to question everyone and everything. The intertextual play at work is extraordinary, and though it may panic you at first viewing, the series of documents, audio files, riddles and… well, that’s for the jury to discover…are easy to follow.
Then again, spoilers needn’t worry readers, as each session is unique given the dexterity in the team’s manipulation of events, and of course the refresh of jurors between sessions. Gradually these strangers will form a unit, as the case becomes more investible, reinforced by Black’s emotional performance. The incorporation of Zoom enables groups to banter, divulge and share screens to build upon the mystery. Fear not plunging down the rabbit hole, as Exit Productions maintains a guiding hand, and a friendly steer for key moments.
Calculative, Jury Duty builds on a world it carefully stitches, gradually morphing an engaging piece into an in-depth explosion of drama, intrigue, and beguiling storytelling. If there was a crime for innovation, Exit Productions is unquestionably guilty.
Continues until 13 August 2020
Electric Dreams Festival website.