Review: Murder Trial Tonight 2, Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Murder Trial Tonight 2 offers a taste of jury service at Sadler’s Wells Theatre and on tour

“What’s with all this Perry Mason business?”

Never having been actually summoned for jury service (and not really hoping to be, if I’m honest), my legal experience is limited to the considerable number of legal dramas that I have loved and lost over the years (though I’ve yet to succumb to the world of true crime). Murder Trial Tonight 2 offers the opportunity to get sworn in without having to book two weeks off work, as the audience takes the place of a jury at the restaging of a real life murder case.

In the dock is Heather Banks. On the night of her third wedding anniversary and after a slap up meal, her husband ended up dead after, as she claims, a road rage incident that started in the car park of the restaurant. An e-fit of the attacker has been circulated far and wide but to no avail, and so now the charge of murder has been brought against her. A judge presides, the prosecution and defence make their cases, the show ends with a QR code with a link for us to decide guilty or not.

It’s a bit of a curious show in all honesty. We all know by know that when an “immersive theatre experience” is promised, it is rarely true to its word and such is the case with Tigerslane Studios’ production here. We sit in the dark, watching an increasingly dry series of cross-examinations of witnesses then the lights come on, you can chat to your neighbours in lieu of actual jury deliberations if you’re so minded, and then our verdict is delivered. Nowt so immersive going on there then.

And in boiling down a whole court case to just over a couple of hours, there’s inevitably huge amounts we don’t get to see and hear, which detracts from the idea that we the jury can indeed truly adjudicate. But for all this, I can’t remember the last time that post-show discussions went on so entertainingly and for so long. We had a split verdict between the two of us and whilst it doesn’t matter who was right (me!), talking about how we got there was huge amounts of fun.

In some ways, it’s a shame that more of this didn’t happen in the theatre rather than in the pub afterwards. A more structured ‘deliberation’ session might facilitate this, leading to some genuine immersion and interactivity for there’s all sorts of things to probe into here, not just the evidence and testimony provided. The weight of societal prejudice hangs heavy over much this case and there’s something really interesting in how different people respond to that.

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