In Secret Studio Lab’s new secret show performed in a secret London location the audience is both jury in a murder trial and in the studio for the world’s first live televised case. Also, it’s 2021 for no fathomable reason (though it’s used as an excuse to make some lame jokes about Trump being president and Corbyn being assassinated).
We listen to barristers, inspect a reconstruction of the crime scene and vote. Clearly there’s a satirical bent, slightly pushing the limits of reality TV and the capriciousness of the masses. But as it builds up its conceit, it also undermines it.
For one thing, the story is shoddy – champion boxer accused of murdering his girlfriend – and the characters are button-pushing stereotypes: a Muslim convert, an illegal immigrant). As well as that the performances – apart from those of the defence and prosecution lawyers – are cringeworthy and, although we’re told it’s live TV, there’s only one tiny camera in evidence.
We’re in a former town hall, and its council chamber is a grand approximation of a courtroom, but it feels like the show is letting the impressive location do all the work. The fact it’s set in 2021 is used to excuse the shoddiness. When manslaughter and murder are conflated, the excuse is “it’s 2021”. When the concept of reasonable doubt is erased, “it’s 2021”. A journalist character interrupts the trial to ask the audience for its own evidence collected from perusal of the crime scene. The judge allows it: because it’s 2021.
An audience savvy to the intricacies of murder trials through shows like Serial and Making A Murderer, will find the slapdash story and the lack of detail completely unconvincing. So what’s the point? Courtrooms are theatrical places, all those speeches and wigs – but, by turning it into theatre, they’ve made it feel absurd.