Don’t be caught napping, you just might be the jury!
The jury shuffles in. The court is called to order. The judge takes his seat as the two lawyers prepare to battle it out. In the balance hangs a man’s life. Is Dr. Sherwood innocent or guilty? Is Jennifer Mitchell to be believed when she says he murdered his wife? Can the witnesses be trusted? Only one thing is certain, you had better pay attention, not least because you will be called upon to deliver the verdict.
‘The Accused’ written by Jeffrey Archer has elements of forum theatre in it, says Sajith Amendra, director of Royal College’s latest production. The last 10 minutes of the play, depend entirely on whether or not the audience believes Dr. Sherwood’s (Sanjay Jayawardena) protestations of innocence. The option of choosing one finale or the other means that nobody has an inkling as to which way the dice will fall, least of all the actors, reveals Inshard Naizer who plays prosecutor Anthony Kersley. Both he and the counsel for defence, Sir James Barrington, played by Feroze Ahamed, have never come closer to being lawyers, and they are relishing the experience.
In the play, complex relationships underlie every aspect of the thrust and parry between the two sides. The two lawyers are sworn enemies, and while Justice Cartwright (Hafeel Farisz) is not particularly fond of either, he may be moved by flattery. Unlike Barrington, however, Kersley is far too proud to stroke anyone’s ego. The relationship between Dr. Sherwood and Mrs. Sherwood is also murky to say the least. Did he poison her as Jennifer Mitchell (Mihiri Warnasuriya) says he did? Is Jennifer really his mistress? Even the porter, a bumbling individual by the name of Albert Webster (Yasas Ratnayake) seems to have an agenda of his own.
Other witnesses include Chief Inspector Payne (Dilshan Senanayake), pharmacist Masood Hussein (Mario Wijewardena/ Arshad Ahmed), and Prof. Alistair Forsythe (Janith Samarasinghe). If the evidence is quite equally divided between the two sides, it only makes things more interesting reveals the director of the production Sajith Amendra, adding that the audience had best be attentive. Jeffrey Archer himself, who also acted as Dr. Patrick Sherwood in the plays first run, described the convoluted plot saying, “at the end of the first act they [the audience] should think my character is innocent, at the end of the second they should think he's guilty, and at the end of act three you should be clueless. And then there’s a triple twist at the end.”The tension throughout the play is considerably lightened by an abundant sprinkling of humour. The cast promises that the overall effect will be enhanced not only by elaborate sets, but also by a carefully chosen soundtrack. Faithful to the Old Bailey of 1952, the stage setup will also be designed to give the spectators the feel of actually being jurors in a dramatic and important court case. Anyone in the audience had better keep a firm grip on their tickets, because their voting slips will come attached, says Hafeel.
When the play first opened at the Theatre Royal in Windsor in late 2000, it was a matter of no small irony that “the accused,” Jeffrey Archer himself - a former Tory deputy chairman - was to go on trial in real life for perjury and perverting the course of justice. His conviction, and subsequent imprisonment only add to his appeal to the sense of his having been everywhere and done everything say the young cast from Royal College who are looking forward to staging the play in Colombo. In the end, it can only be something of a relief for a theatre goer to know that this is one verdict which you can afford to get wrong.
Directed by Sajith Amendra, ‘The Accused’ will run from September 14 to 16 at the Ladies’ College Hall. Tickets are available at the Royal College Union office and Mindadventures at Sigma Institute. Sponsors for the event are Mindadventures, co-sponsors are Chemanex Ltd and Koolmart while the electronic media sponsors are ETV and air conditioning sponsors are Koolmart.