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A Trial, devised by Jo Randerson, Maria Williams, Joel Baxendale, Karin McCracken, and Anya Tate-Manning, transformed the dome stage at BATS into a courtroom. With Justice Jody Ranzerson bringing the New Zealand High Court to this beloved theatre space, for five nights, the public was given an opportunity to see a defamation case that TVNZ had brought against an unnamed defendant. The case investigated the TVNZ Kiwi survey and questioned whether it was a useful measure of national identity, or simply encouraged racism as the unnamed defendant suggested.
On each of the five nights, more of the trial was revealed and played out similarly to a ‘court-room’ drama. I would’ve liked to have attended every night, and seen how A Trial developed and reached a verdict. However when I went they managed to draw the audience in through a satirical depiction of the modern justice system, and were clear in setting up characters and their statuses within the room. I viewed the show on a Tuesday (the second night of A Trial): lawyers Mr Beckensdael and Miss Rizmackon examined two witnesses regarding the survey, one being David Farrar—creator of Kiwiblog. The witnesses seemed to be following a script provided, or like David Farrar were genuinely saying what they believe and know. This added veracity to A Trial, through the presentation of real evidence in front of a real jury selected from the Wellington public—it was not only comedic but authentic.
From a wider perspective, A Trial emphasised how lawyers ‘perform’ in courtrooms. Trials always seem performative; from the moment the judge enters and everyone rises, to the lawyers dramatising evidence to the jury to state their case and point. This was a key reason that the show was created, and Karin McCrackin and Joel Baxendale portrayed contrasting lawyers. Joel being the “boring” Plaintiff, ensuring all facts are heard even when they have very little relevance, and Karin being the “sharp-witted” Defence, serious and aggressive.
The producer Jo Randerson, a highly valued theatre practitioner and judge for A Trial, showed the audience just how little judges are required in courtrooms. As she sat centre stage of the Dome, in her grand cardboard stand (designed by Nick Zwart and Meg Rollandi) she was visible to all audience members. Trying to be subtle, she expressed many emotions judges undoubtedly consider throughout the trial: from boredom to critiquing the lawyers, Justice Jody Ranzerson fell asleep with her travel pillow, craved some chips, and even started blowing bubbles. Her quips sought to distract the audience as the lawyers spoke, and caused me to question whether the information from the lawyers was necessary.
Courtney T. Aker (Williams) as the court taker, and Jacqui Strongarm (Tate-Manning) as member of the press, performed their roles entertainingly, through Courtney eating an apple behind her clipboard and only occasionally court taking, and Jacqui’s incessant need to take pictures even though it was forbidden. These moments added to the parody and illustrated how intrusive the media can be.
Overall, A Trial was an authentic and interesting piece of theatre, revealing the performative nature of courtrooms and how old fashioned the modern justice system is. A Trial is now over, and I can now confirm that the jury decided the unnamed Defence was not guilty for defamation. I hope the cast presents another case for theatre-goers to engage with.
What’s on this week?
Comedy Festival continues this week with improv and comedy coming out of our ears! Between the assignments that are due and tests to study for, go and enjoy what it has to offer!
On at BATS:
Taking Off the Bird Suit
May 10–14, at 6.30pm
Look at Me
May 10–14, at 7.00pm
It Goes On
May 10–14, at 9.00pm
50 Minutes Plus Laughs
May 12–14, at 8.30pm
On at Circa Theatre:
Promise and Promiscuity
May 3–21, at 7.30pm