At 6pm, we Zoom in for the trial of Harry Briggs (Tom Black), accused of arson, manslaughter and murder. We get a brief introduction from the Ministry of Justice, a faceless coordinator voiced by Joe Ball. A slick and realistic presentation lays out the remote courtroom rules. Unlike normal jury duty, before we decide Briggs’ fate it will be our job to investigate him, we’re sent a document containing various zip files, room plans, mp3 recordings and a link to a database. Then we’re left alone for pretty much the rest of the 2 hours.
Although impressive, the hyperrealism of the documents makes it all quite dull. I’m a quick reader so after 15 minutes I’ve read most of it. I don’t really know where to go from here, I’ve written down a few names but that’s about it. As soon as the other jurors in my room begin talking I feel increasingly confused. I was expecting everyone to be in the dark like me but it’s like they have all done this before. They’re talking about names and companies that I haven’t come across and I try a few times to ask how they know all these things but I’m hurriedly told it’s “in the database”… Where??
30 minutes in and I’m convinced they are all trained actors and I’m being set up.
Someone in my group very pointedly asks “what have you found Sarah?” becoming cross that I don’t have much more to add. The telling off reminds me of being at school when the teacher calls you out in front of the whole class after you’ve tried to blag that you’ve done the homework.
After an hour I’m sure the other jurors are not trained actors but in fact real lawyers. It is like they’re speaking a foreign language, talking about “rebuttals”, “statutes” and “reasonable doubt”. One member of my cohort suggests we find out if the defendant has a “mens rea”, a Latin, legal term for ‘guilty mind.’… LATIN!
The group dynamic is of course not the fault of the show’s creators. Indeed, Exit Productions’ idea is undeniably clever, we receive phone calls and emails throughout with tip-offs and you can find some information in the database. Black’s acting and improvisation, when he’s questioned by the jury, is impressive, he’s certainly thought about his character.
However, there often isn’t time to fully explain the tip-offs to the group or debrief after our time questioning the defendant. High skills in technology are also an unwritten requirement for the show. After finding an encrypted, gobbledygook sound clip, one of the jurors uses a computer programme she has to unscramble it. This is beyond my comprehension.
I am expecting fun but it’s more like work, hard work, with tech-wizard and Latin-speaking strangers and to see more interference from the coordinator and much clearer clues. At the end, we are told only 20% of audiences get the verdict correct, which makes me feel like less of a dunce and shows it is perhaps too difficult. It certainly goes over my head, although the fact that all my group still managed to put together a case shows I’m missing something.
I love ‘whodunits’ and I’m a pro at Cluedo but this feels like a training day for prospective lawyers. If you are a budding lawyer then go for it but if you’re more of an average Jo(sephine) like me then I would give it a miss.
Exit Productionsis playing on Zoom until 10/07/2020. For more information and tickets, go to Exit Production’s website.