As the West End starts to open up there are two courtroom dramas already on the slate: the return of Lucy Baily’s Witness for the Prosecution in the hugely atmospheric County Hall and the delayed opening of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud, both from May 27. When I saw Witness, I was mightily surprised by its power to shock. Unlike the Mousetrap, it’s not remotely cosy.
Theatre and courtrooms have much in common, with audiences constantly analysing the behaviour of characters like juries weighing the facts presented to them. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that enterprising theatre companies have turned to the jury format in shutdown to offer online dramas that cast the audience as the jury.
One of the most successful has been Jury Games, whose show Jury Duty, was an on-line hit last year and continues to be available. The company’s latest piece is The Inquest, is written by Joe Ball and Tom Black, the latter responsible for the much-admired Crisis? What Crisis? at Colab in 2019.
The immersive theatre skills from that show are brought to bear in The Inquest, a slick and playful mixture of clue solving and witness interrogation in which the audience play the jurors in a remote coroner’s court hearing convened to re-examine an open verdict from 10 years previously. Did Scott Davies, a student whose naked body was found in the Cam in 2010, die by misadventure? Or did he kill himself. Or did someone kill him?
Still from The Inquest.
I have to confess I sat on the side-lines and watched as my fellow participants approached their job of sifting the facts from the lies with a skill and enthusiasm that would make Sherlock Holmes look like a rank amateur. My suspicion is that this is an experience –you can play as a group of friends or as an individual—that is best suited to those who view the PTA organised school quiz as an opportunity to show off their arcane knowledge. Rather than slackers like me, who reckon such events are primarily intended for us to drink lots of warm white wine and eat unlimited peanuts while letting the rest of the team do all the hard work.
But I take my hat off to my fellow jurors who certainly put in the graft and as a result were guided through a rather satisfying narrative with some nice twists and the opportunity to do a little light interrogation. The whole thing is designed to give snooping a good name and reward persistence. The more active you are and the better you work together the more likely of discovering what really happened to Scott Davies.
Like a number of shows I’ve done in lock-down I have to confess that it’s not really my cup of green tea, but I admire it for the way it encourages an audience to play together and rewards their commitment. But I also admire the conviction and skill with which Ball and Black (who also play crucial roles) have put this neat and slippery little package together. This is two hours that may not quite deliver all the tension and theatre of the traditional courtroom drama, but which rethinks the format with genuine imagination to offer other, no less rewarding, pleasures.
You can participate in The Inquest until Sun 4 Apr. Tickets here.