Jury Duty – Electric Dreams Online

Created by Joe Ball and Tom Black

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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 Productions 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.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/jury-duty-electric-dreams-online-festival/

Continues until 13 August 2020. Tickets and information available from Electric Dreams Festival website.  

Scottish Opera – Fever! Teaching & Parental Resources

Continuing their commitment to broadening the scopes of opera and young minds across Scotland and the UK, Scottish Opera is making a wealth of materials and learning tools available to the public, aimed at children studying around the primary five-seven brackets.

As of today (May 11th) schools and families will have access to online teaching resources for the popular primary schools production Fever! Featuring music by Alan Penman, with lyrics courtesy of Allan Dunn, Fever! Was first performed in 2011 and has remained a firm favourite since. For the first time, this online version of the tool has been made available for those at home, allowing the country to delve into the humorous and fast-paced tale. All of which will culminate in a nationwide virtual performance at the end of June.

Underpinning an appropriately aged message, tackling the concepts of epidemics, viral transmissions and the equally as dangerous spreading of false news, Fever! tells the story of a young boy who is overcome by a mysterious illnessAs the doctors frantically search for a cure, a rush of media, hungry for a piece of the scoop, bombard the hospital.

Until June 15th, this series of audio teaching tracks, activity materials and videos will cover a variety of topics, not limiting themselves to the obvious. Creative writing, prop and costume creation, and science will all be incorporated into the tools. Featuring seasoned cast members Lucy Hutcheson and Alan McKenzie from the Primary School tours, illustrations for the resources are by Iain Piercy. Advocating the communication of story through artistic means, the tools also look at the mechanics of the human body, disease, and perhaps vitally for younger generations, the impact of the press and media on everyday lives. Designed to tie into teachers delivering core elements of the Curriculum of Excellence such as social studies, history, technologies, literacy, and citizenship, the tools are equally available to parents outside of the curriculum.

For those who think opera can only exist in the past, Scottish Opera once more reminds us that the art form is relevant, accessible and underpins contemporary issues. Information and resources can be located here: www.scottishopera.org.uk/fever.

Photo credit – Sally Jubb

Trojan Horse – Traverse Theare

Written by Helen Monks & Matt Woodhead

Directed by Matt Woodhead

Re-writing history is a debate worth extending, clarification, however, is a necessity – particularly when evidence comes to light which demonstrates political obsession to pervert the public opinion, using education as a vulnerable tool to stoke hatred. In 2014, Trojan Horse was the term thrown around for the ‘reports’ of the radical promotion of Islamist propaganda in three of Birmingham’s high-performing schools. LUNG theatre, in association with Leeds Playhouse, taps our shoulder to gently remind us that fake news is old news and that we still haven’t caught on to government’s brand of scape-goating propaganda.

Intense, Trojan Horse has little time in handholding the audience through the too-recent history for Muslim families, teachers and students within British communities. Translating over two-hundred hours of interviews, numerous public documents and accounts of public hearings into an attention-grabbing full-length production are far from an easy task. Across the classroom and whirling to the courts, the trials and secrets of those involved are looked at through an artistic lens, with a dose of healthy humour thrown in. 

Who can blame them at pop-shots at Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education? There’s quite a queue. At the heart of it all is a vendetta, a pursuit of truth and opportunity to expand on what has been a headline led story. Restraining overflowing aggression, Trojan Horse reflects on the events of 2014 through playfulness, brief movement direction and storytelling mechanics, rippled with fact. While appealing to our displeasure in the treatment of Muslim teachers in the community, it avoids pandering and leaping on the all too easy option of offence. The key strength of Trojan Horse is that it doesn’t feel the need to exaggerate or lie.

Infusing a school construct in design, Rana Fadavi’s set is clean, five wheeled desks serving as a variety of locations. The production is keen to promote those listening in Urdu, the video projection of Will Monk’s blackboard aiding with the production’s accessibility and breaks up the ‘chapters’. Detracting momentarily, the projection is occasionally over-used, bloating the stage when the performances and writing are considerable enough to hold attention without flashing text.

For really, as tight as Monks & Woodhead’s script is, it is the cast and Woodhead’s direction which compact Trojan Horse’s emotion into a direct pin-point assault. This is the form of production where emotional outrage, while justified, could easily tip the scale, but a balance is achieved. Points are put across by characters in an assortment of means, taking on multiple roles as students, teachers, parents and the occasional version of real0life councillors or committee members involved, particularly Komal Amin and Qasim Mahmood for their accents, physical transformation and capability of conveying class-attitude with minor touches.

Then Mustafa Chaudhry offers a solidifying moment for Trojan Horse, a point of humanity which tests the audience. Refraining from hushing a character’s thought on LGBTQI+ communities, Chaudhry controls the audience to still connect with the role, even if the revelation of his intolerance would otherwise remove our sympathy. It’s a testament to the writing, and the relationship Woodhead has with his cast, but it speaks especially of Chaudhry’s talent. 

The manipulation of media is nothing new, but the indoctrination of division within small family communities has been a growing concern. Monks & Woodhead demonstrate that the tactic is a readily used one, it’s only now the tactics are becoming apparent, no sense of fear or punishment for those perpetrating, but with catastrophic changes for those in the firing line.

Photo credit – Ant Robling