If you only know The Gatehouse pub from your strolls through picturesque Hampstead Heath you might be even more surprised about the size of their upstairs theatre and its far over 100 seats. As all seats facing the longer front of the stage are already taken, we decide for the side close to the piano, the only musical instrument used tonight: as it proves later that we are treated to a cast of exceptionally good singers, I wish we'd sat on the opposite side.
A randomly chosen menage of people form the jury to contribute to the pronunciation of a sentence in court; we have social workers, builders, university lecturers, pensioners, business people and more, all with a different view on life and justice, which is the whole point of this institution within the British legal system.
But no matter how opinionated or touched individuals are by this terrible case of domestic violence ended with a dead woman, no matter how much people can relate to different aspects of the information available, all twelve must agree on a verdict – and this can take days. Even weeks. To deal with eleven strangers, each one is confronted with eleven different ways of character, communication and rationalizing and this journey leads to tensions, confessions, flirts, tears, unexpected reunions and even a slap.
Will this uncontrolled faux-pas help to see if the accused Jason acted just in the heat of the moment or was it the fatal final of ongoing abuse? No one tasked with this verdict was there, no one knows anything for sure.
Repeatedly cursed by fifty-fifty vote results, the powerful choir pieces reflect the claustrophobic responsibility of each individual and the group as a whole hauntingly. The solo of marketeer Hannah about her lost baby brings tears to the lady sitting in front of me while in other scenes the whole theatre is roaring with laughter: Have you ever been pushed without warning into am-drams by someone with uncomfortable enthusiasm for improv theatre? It seems that everyone tonight can very well relate to this scene.
The audience thanks with standing ovations and really, I cannot think of a single aspect of necessary improvement. Maybe the personal challenge of every jury member is not necessary but none of the songs are too long either and they are all well written and never bore – this is a strong new musical and won't vanish from the stages too soon.
It runs until 16 February.
Review: SadiePhoto credit: Julian Bruton
Director: Joseph Meighan, Mountview (Romeo & Juliet, Les Miserable) Composer: Ashley M A Walsh, UCLan & GSA (Schindler, Pandora, Closets,) Writer: Amy Fletcher, Manchester Metropolitan, (No Exit, The City, Billy Liar)
Cast: Laura Meaton, Katherine Green, Ashley Ball, Bethany Grace, David Gibbons, Kaidyn Hinds, Tom Blackmore, Huon Mackley, Elizabeth Brooks, Laura Coard, Janice Fryett and Charlie Culkin.
Producer: Anton Benson Productions Ltd, J R Theatre & Ashley M A Walsh