Seated in the basement room of the New Town Theatre, we await the arrival of the judge. The prosecutor, defence lawyer and defendant are here already and rapidly growing impatient. I’m holding my breath as I’m not sure what to expect.
Blurred Justice is a play by the Performing Change theatre and arts company which looks to cast the audience as the jury in the trial of one man who has been accused of terrorism. The play has already won Amnesty International UK’s 2016 Marsh Awards and it looks to explore Western understandings of guilt and innocence against the complexities of the Yemeni Civil war. The story is told through a courtroom framework that also includes flashbacks to help improve our understanding of the story as well as provide an emotional attachment to Sharif’s friends and family.
In case that all sounds like a lot to take in, there’s is luckily some comic relief in the form of the hapless judge played by Sean McAllinder-Barber. He manages a delicate balance of helping us, the Jury, understand what is going on while also appearing to be being completely ill-equipped in what seems a deliciously pointed attack on the UK’s judicial system. He’s like a Boris Johnson figure – speaking from a position of authority yet failing to have a practical understanding of absolutely anything.
The acting in Blurred Justice is strong, especially from Dhvel Patel who plays the accused Sharif. He stands his ground defiantly, causing many of us to turn away as he glares us down in his rage. Being forced to examine your own whiteness while being cast as someone who supports the UK’s culture of bombings and arms deals is rightly not a comforting experience. There are times when the dialogue becomes clouded by soapbox fact spouting, which sometimes pulls you out of the drama. While necessary, a lot of these facts could have been presented by the defence lawyer so as to avoid the affair becoming too one sided. Fortunately, the prosecutor, played wonderfully coldly by Yasemin Gava, provides good counterpoints by saying things that I’m sure a few people were thinking.
Following final statements from the prosecutor and defence, we are able to raise our hands to decide if Sharif is innocent or guilty. Fascinatingly, I saw a number of audience members remain still and choose not to raise their hands to vote at all. In line with the points made by the play, my key takeaway from this was that when we are given a choice to change things, many choose to do nothing.
Blurred Justice runs at New Town Theatre until 22nd August, 23:15.