I shall never forget the time I had jury service at the Old Bailey. I remember how intense the courtroom was and how stressed out my fellow jurors gradually became, especially when it came down to deliberating and agreeing to a final verdict in a small, private room. During those two weeks, it took us more than three days to make a final decision. Once we delivered our verdict to the judge, our civic duty had been done; we had washed our hands clean from looking at all of the evidence and thinking over the moral implications, time and time again, of the case at hand. In these circumstances, the jury was given enough time to make the right decision. But imagine a world where there’s limited or barely any evidence – more like anecdotes, and roughly 30 seconds to make a decision on the fate of the accused? It would be unethical, right?
If you’ve ever wanted to get a feel for being on the jury panel, then welcome to PonyDog Productions’ new show, The Agency. Now showing at The Old Red Lion Theatre, as part of the London Horror Festival, the audience fasts forward to the year 2029. The justice system has become a privately owned organisation called The Agency and whoever walks through the Old Red Lion Theatre are provided with an information envelope, Wi-Fi passwords and procedural permission to keep their mobile phone on for the entire show. (Yippee!)
Writer and director of the show, Davey Seagle, who also performs the role of the omniscient and chauvinist lighting guy, has executed an engaging script, which brings together curiosity, innovation and excitement. The show encourages the audience to think and discuss with one another, yes, complete strangers(!) – each different case. Representatives of The Agency, Cherry (co-producer Niamh Blackman) and Chuck (Chris Elms) facilitate all of the jury sessions and keep them in check in case any of them decide to go rogue and oppose The Agency’s code of conduct – cause anarchy and social chaos.
Another refreshing part of the show is the use of mobile phones. To present the jury’s verdict, multiple choices pop up on their phones and they can pick and choose their final decision in real time. It almost feels like you’re part of a TV game show, except at The Agency you’re dealing with real lives. Your moral compass goes haywire as you look at a projector screen with pie charts, percentages and limited sentencing options. The Agency offers the jury prices and so-called statistics. Yet, torture, execution, fines and freedom is on the cards for the accused that sit tied up and are vulnerable to painful zaps in the neck whenever the jury votes for it. Murderer and terrorist, Bunny (Georgie Oulton) heightens the show by adding an element of thrill in an interrogation stroke semi-torture scene, bringing the audience closer to hearing and seeing what the accused has to say to save them from death or imprisonment.
This is a thrilling and digitally interactive show, which, like a courtroom situation, requires the eyes and ears of its audience. Full participation and critical thinking mode needs to be switched on. Yet, putting the serious and chilling atmosphere aside, Seagle, Oulton, Elms and Blackman give impressive performances. They add a few comedy lines to lighten the moral load. Often I forgot I was in a pub theatre and felt I had been dragged into a real dystopian world. Execution is worth £200 to The Agency, yet life imprisonment can be over a £1 million, which is the same price as many cancer treatments for children. The choice is yours.
The Agency is showing on Tuesday 9, Wednesday 11 and Thursday 11. Please head to the Old Red Lion Theatre website.