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FringeReview Scotland 2024

Silence in Court

Stageworks East West

Genre: Drama, Fringe Theatre, Interactive

Venue: 1051 GWR


Low Down

Upon entering the production space, a jury is chosen which shall judge a man, accused of a rape, whilst is accuser shall be in the court to give her testimony . A judge presides, with two lawyers representing each side – prosecution and defence. They ask the original questions of the accused and alleged victim. The jurors’ job it is to pronounce guilty or innocent, after hearing the evidence. As well as the lawyers asking the questions, we have the judge taking “an unprecedented step” – one presumes a nightly unprecedented necessity – of allowing jury and then the audience a part of the 5-minute cross examination of both people giving evidence. There is no forensics, no other witnesses and nothing other than two people claiming to tell the truth before us.


Caption: (L-R)  Lee Fanning as Charles Brand. Jamie Stephen McCafferty as Richard Dalbeith. Sebastian Davidson as The Judge. Sabina Smith as The Usher. Jack Nelson as Callum Paterson. Jasmine Main as Jennifer Lyons.
Pic: Líam Rudden Media

With the old Crown Court television format of the past as its inspiration – along with the theme tune – this is a theatrical piece which can depend on the quality of who turns up to see it. There is skill in getting people to engage and tonight that was hindered by illness, but once it managed to get people engaged it takes its own direction. By the end having a verdict to give makes this even more engaging and participative – in short, in a country filled with true crime buffs, the format is a clear winner.

The first half where we are introduced to the concept and start to hear the evidence presented by both lawyers, when they conduct their own cross examinations, is hampered a little by the script. Taking everything back to basics to allow it to be understood means that some of the more subtle elements of any court case are sacrificed. The ability of a jury, and the audience in turn, to understand disputed facts which are to be debated further along the line, is not allowed free reign as we have to do what we can with such limited information.

Some cast absences meant that whilst we did not have the B team, but people experienced in delivering the format and the script, they were not quite as slick as the cast who had rehearsed together. Those cast members missing who had been working on the silences, significant side glances and relationships between them, meant that further subtlety was lost. This was all the more obvious in the second half where the hot seating of the accused and victim happened. Both were able to show their ability to side swipe awkward questions and improvise answers which meant their stories were gaining depth which was more impressive as they were comfortable onstage with their storylines and colleagues.

Similarly, the surfeit of ponytails amongst our lawyers with suits as costumes worked to an extent, but lawyers also have the gowns, worn by our learned judge. Costume and appearance seemed a secondary consideration, though to be fair, the performances were decent enough to take you beyond the trivial. It was performed with no theatrical trickery – lights etc – so we got the naked, literally, truth of the narrative.

Interestingly the role of the jury and the switch from the actors being the central point, becoming the dramatic focus was fascinating and a bit disturbing. We got a socially “conscious” paradox, who was all hang ‘em and flog ‘em, potential candidate for chairwoman of the Westminster Conservative Association, masquerading as a socialist warrior as the fore person. Clearly and as was expressed she did have an agenda, because of her work with victims in the past but what was part of the success of this was that rather than be persuaded by the arguments of our two protagonists, the audience was being persuaded by the quality of the arguments of the fore person. It worked in the jury room, but the audience were less convinced, meaning that the verdict of the court was contrary to public opinions as expressed on the evening!

As a social experiment it therefore worked well and despite being hindered by cast missing and people filling in, you can see why this, as a second pub theatre style performance, in the new venue, works. That the venue was almost full is testimony to the appeal, so all seems to be travelling in the right direction, though some thought to where that direction goes now is something worthy of a lot of thought, before we pronounce sentence on the enterprise.