The Accused by Jeffery Archer
The Accused is a courtroom drama with a few differences, including an intention to dispel our notions of the “real legal world” as seen on television. An interesting feature: the audience IS the jury. With the imperative: “You are the Jury. Guilty or Not Guilty? You decide…” the audience at the Hobart Repertory Theatre Society production of Jeffery Archer’s courtroom drama The Accused have an opportunity to declare the accused, Dr Sherwood (James Casey) either Guilty or Not Guilty. The audience verdict on the night decides the outcome of the play: depending on the verdict, the play finishes with one of two very different endings. I was tempted to return for another performance to see what happened if a Guilty verdict was decided! Another feature was audience participation. The audience/jury was required to “rise”, as would a real jury. This ploy had two effects: it probably helped prevent deep vein thrombosis (this was a VERY long play!) and it gave the opportunity to break the tension. Courtroom dramas can go on a bit, but this one was riveting. Archer’s use of irony and humour was excellent. The cast of fourteen players seemed to have a handle on the nuances of the legalities, although the wordiness caused some line fluffs. In the case of the QC (for the prosecution) Mrs Elizabeth Kersley (Robin Rheinberger) the heavy word-load was a problem at times. This was cleverly overcome in the form of a clipboard with prompts. In an ensemble production, pin-pointing stand-outs are hard. Veteran actors Gillian Hunt (Dame Edith Barrington QC) was a believable defence counsel while James Casey displayed the right balance of sympathy and malevolence. With little to do but look dismayed, disbelieving and put-upon in the first half, Casey came into his own when he was being questioned at the end of the trial. His convincing performance, displaying innocence, smugness and arrogance was suitably cliff-hanger material. Other actors, with a considerably lighter word-load, were equally responsible for the tension of the outcome. An actor to watch, Mark Thomson’s performance, in the almost non-speaking of the guard was more than competent. An excellent cast, a wonderfully effective but minimalist set and a clever script add up to entertainment with a capital E. Good work.