I was delighted to have the privilege of attending the word premier of “The Jury” a new musical which debuted tonight in The Brindley Theatre, Runcorn. The mysterious concept of the “The Jury” storyline which was advertised did not fit into the category of ‘musical’ in my head however this production proved that anything is possible as they have pulled off a very interesting and new collaboration of music, movement and drama.
Twelve ordinary people are called to jury service and find themselves faced with a murder trial. The defendant is claiming self-defence and the jurors face the gruelling task of deciding whether this is the case or not. As time progresses, the audience learn more about the twelve individuals who bring their life experiences forward to try help one another to reach a verdict.
From the start, you are captivated by the harmonies and the vocal abilities from the twelve performers on stage. The music sounds quite ‘weird’ with lots of tricky rhythms, minor tones and musical clashes bringing an eerie and unsettling atmosphere which is in keeping with the storyline of this musical. Every note was heard and the cast were very impressive with their delivery of this highly complicated and difficult score which is credited to Ashley Walsh, Musical Director and composer.
Ashley Walsh was on stage throughout the production, becoming part of the set as he played piano and orchestrated unassumingly at the back of the ‘court room’. This worked well and did not deflect from the drama which was unfolding in a quite unusual set design. The whole show takes place within the back room of a court however the surroundings did not suggest this as the walls were dilapidated with old, ripped wall paper and broken tree branches which gave a haunting effect. Although this was not an obvious choice of set design, I don’t think anything is obvious within this production and the audience are always left feeling like everything is askew and something is missing.
The storyline prides itself on bringing twelve very diverse characters together and this was fully achieved through the variety of skilled performers on stage. Some of the characters took time to grow and the audience learnt a little more about each one as the scenes progressed. It was exciting to see the collaboration of these actors with some making their professional debut working alongside highly experienced performers however this was not apparent in quality as each individual brought strong characterisation and crucial variety.
My favourite scene has to be when Bethany Grace comes to the fore as ‘Debbie’ and tells her fellow juror’s “Let’s play a game”. This comic scene not only emphasised her flawless characterisation but it gave all of the performers a chance to pick up the pace and delight the audience with some much needed humour. Grace was utterly ‘Debbie’ in every movement and mannerism making her fabulously annoying but lovable and highly entertaining to watch.
Another stand out performance came from Laura Meaton as ‘Hannah’ with her tear jerking song “My angel”. This emotional tribute to her stillborn baby was stunning and very believable as she brought to light just one of the difficult topics which are explored within this production.
With themes of gender discrimination, alcohol abuse, violence and ageism to name but a few, this show is jam packed with modern day culture and issues for the audience to reflect upon. On account of this, members from “Sidewalk Talk” which are a community listening project were on hand at the interval and at the end of the production handing out flyers and offering support for anyone who feels they need a listening ear. This very much highlighted the “We Must Talk” message and gave the audience a take home message of promoting positive mental health and reducing stigma.
On a personal level, I feel this musical has great potential but it is not quite there yet in terms of fully engaging the audience. Some of the music and scenes felt a little repetitive and this, alongside the unchanging the set, characters and costumes meant that it was lacking a little bit of spark. The writers Amy Fletcher and Ashley Walsh have taken on a massive challenging combining drama mystery with musical and I applaud them for creating something quite memorable and different alongside clever direction from Joseph Meighan. However for me, the overall feel was a little slow and I think the musical needs more development if it is to compete with the other musicals out there which usually leave the audience feeling uplifted and wanting more.
Reviewer: Bláthíne Maguire
Reviewer: 19th July 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★