Liam Rudden: Guilty or Not Guilty? You, the audience must decide

Silence In Court
Silence In Court

IT must be close on a decade since my long-time theatrical collaborator Edward Cory and I sat in the bar of the Mount Royal Hotel on Princes Street, wracking our brains for an idea to fill a evening slot in a newly opened cafe in Leith.

The idea was to come up with a piece of interactive theatre, during which food and drinks could be served.

Creating a ‘theatre cafe’ was an exciting proposition, there being nothing quite like it at the time in the Capital. Still isn’t as far as I know, although if you think The Faulty Towers Dining Experience, you’ll get the idea. Sort of.

After much deliberation, the initial idea was indeed to try to adapt an old TV sitcom, the conversation turned to what we watched as kids when we were off school sick.

For me that meant ITV’s lunchtime drama, Crown Court.

It always fascinated me that the jury were all members of the public - even then, the idea of ‘ordinary people’ getting to be part of something theatrical intrigued me.

The fact that they were allowed into such an elite world - Equity still operated a closed shop in those days - was something of which I was envious.

That was when the penny dropped (or if you like, the gavel banged, not that they’re used in this day and age), an interactive court room drama in which the audience decided the verdict was the ideal way of staying true to our ethos of immersive theatre.

But what topic to choose for the case being tried? Something controversial. Something that would make the audience think. We decided to examine public attitudes to rape, and so, after taking advice on the script from a friend at Women’s Aid, Silence In Court premiered in that small theatre cafe to an audience of 15 people a night.

Over the years it has evolved, thanks initially to Fringe producer Tomek Borkowy who, on seeing the original production immediately booked it for his venue - the deal sealed with a shake of the hand and a bottle of Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka.

That venue, a Masonic Hall with what appeared to be its very own court room, brought a new sense of realism to the piece. More than once, while discussing the accused and accuser’s testimonies, audience members revealed their own often horrific experiences. It was powerful and moving.

The show got its third incarnation when it moved to its current home at Le Monde Hotel, there they programmed it in a lunch time slot, including a drink and pie in the ticket price. Full circle. Almost.

It opened the piece up to a whole new audience as well as regulars who come back time and time again. That’s the beauty of interactive theatre, you never get the same show twice, although, hearing the criteria people use to decide the verdict can be disturbing. There are some very strange ideas voiced and even stranger prejudices.

Silence In Court returns to Le Monde this Fringe (3-25 August) along with its sequel Conflict In Court. Hopefully see you there.