Jury at Park Theatre Online
The amateur Park Theatre Company – Script Class worked together for ten weeks during lockdown to produce a piece of theatre akin to our new normal: via Zoom. Jury is a new play written by Martin Murphy, which tells the story of jurors who work together to provide the verdict on a high-profile case. Set against the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak, the piece touches on how the judicial system has resorted to a digital solution in order to catch up on the growing backlog of court cases. Due to this online aspect, the jury is required to reach a verdict within only 45 minutes.
Director Amy Allen stages this piece as part of the Creative Learning Programme, which moved online in May as a result of the pandemic. The programme offers opportunities for all ages such as virtual workshops on scriptwriting and filming self-tapes for auditions.
In order to make this play stand out, Murphy presents it as a comedy. The jury must discuss the facts and minutiae provided by the barristers but being a jury member over Zoom also allows one to discuss the complimentary sandwiches and how to hide alcohol in a coffee mug.
Like many who have been working from home during this time, the jury is hindered by the niggles of Zoom. The jurors talk over each other, experience the frustrating stop-and-start approach, and digress onto other topics. This is a natural consequence of using Zoom, which Allen rightly highlights.
The characters span a wide range of archetypes and stereotypes, showing the breadth of people called to partake in jury service, allowing the audience to witness many different viewpoints on crime and punishment, right and wrong, and how these people are required to come together. Allen gives a large amount of airtime to the characters, each displaying their typical mannerisms and viewpoints as they continue their intriguing, repetitive rhetoric. Again, a consequence of using this platform is highlighted through repeated comments and disagreements amongst the cast. Allen and the cast are therefore trying to highlight the negative effects of video chat through this portrayal.
Overall, this choice of medium means that it is hard to build a solid foundation of a gripping story. There are many opportunities available when staging a jury service and their discussions; the Park Theatre Company were hindered due to creating this piece whilst battling against real-life restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps once the wonderful world of theatre re-opens to the masses, the members of Script Class can come together to find a new way of presenting a strong narrative – once the final digital curtain is allowed to fall.