12 Incompetent Jurors
Ian McWethy’s 2010 New York-set play, updated and relocated to south London, is a perfect piece for a community company returning to the stage after two arid years. It features 13 actors (a full jury and, briefly a judge) so there’s plenty of scope for lots of people and because they’re confined to a jury room you can do it in a pretty small space which is what the “hall end” of the rebuilt St George’s church, Forest Hill provides. It’s also very funny – and that’s what we all need at the moment.
A man called Donald Pleats is alleged to have stolen some cats and, indeed, has confessed to the crime. The jury’s job is to decide whether or not there is proof that he is guilty. And a great deal of hilariously spurious discussion follows as various jurors try to demonstrate that black is white and that if you’re persuasive enough you can convince anybody of anything. It’s a light hearted satire on group dynamics.
The characterisation is splendid – and very well sustained under Ben Sutherland’s skilled direction. Justin Atherton, for example, is terrific as a slimy creep with a whining voice who never stops eating chips in a very repugnant way. And there’s a lovely performance from Mark Harrington as an aggressive National Front type who punctuates every conversation with angry, shouted bits of outrageous bigotry. In real life you’d run a mile to avoid this character. On stage we just laugh at him – a lot. He is worried, for example about terrorist organisations such as IRA, Al Queda and the National Trust.
Nick Bartlett is strong as the ever reasonable young foreman trying persistently to get a verdict and keep the peace and I enjoyed Megan O’Callaghan as the slightly more ambiguous character who simply wants to turn opinion for reasons of her own. Actually all twelve of them are very competent and they play off each other well in twos and threes.
Another thing I admired about both the play and the production is that the diversity is built in – a jury is, by definition, a disparate group and this is South London so you can have local actors from different backgrounds using their native accents which adds to the richness.
The play runs almost 90 minutes and is divided (presumably by the original playwright) into three acts which is pretty pointless. There is no point in drawing the curtains – and in this instance it really is curtains – for a few seconds and then returning to exactly the same moment in the drama. I think this play would work even better if done “straight through”.
This was the first St George’s Players production I’ve seen – somehow I missed the company before the pandemic although I’d heard of it and it’s local to me. Quite a discovery and I’m eagerly looking forward to the next invitation.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/12-incompetent-jurors/