Pros: The whole cast delivers a convincing performance and the setting is truly beautiful.
Cons: Being part comedy and part murder mystery, this show can be quite disorientating.
The plot of Code 2021 by Secret Studio Lab, formerly known as Secret Theatre, is promising. The public is invited into the Trial TV studios where, as the name might suggest, a trial for murder is being broadcast live. According to the 2021 legislation, the final verdict is down to the same public.
When I arrived at the studio – somewhere in Bethnal Green – Rip Love (Monty Jones) was interviewing some audience members. The space felt a bit cramped, but soon the doors of the courtroom were opened and we could all take a seat. In the dock was the World Champion of Middle Weight Boxing, Mike Lewis, accused of murdering his girlfriend Alice Duvall (Sarah Roy) in their Chelsea flat. Mike is, as a matter of fact, a black guy and, when the prosecutor started talking about his recent conversion to Islam, the whole character felt immediately very ‘Muhammad Ali’.
After the first hearing, we were all led to an adjacent studio where the couple’s apartment had been recreated. Watching through a glass wall, we were presented with a double re-enactment of the murder, according to the contrasting reconstructions by the prosecution and the defence. The layout of this second studio, with its ingenious use of multi-levelled spaces, is the real highlight of this production. Excitingly, during the interval we were invited to explore the scene of the crime and try to find some clues, but the set turned out to be too small for all of us, and moving around was a struggle.
The second part of the trial started with the questioning of the witnesses, before becoming an open consultation between the audience and a journalist/moderator – also part of the cast. During this part, the performance started losing its verve and turned suddenly from whodunit to talk show, with comic inserts from Rip Love that felt muddled and anticlimactic. After a lengthy debate, we had our chance to vote for guilt or innocence. Mike Lewis was cleared of his charges and the show ended abruptly, without revealing an official version of the facts and leaving my thirst for justice – or, most likely, my curiosity – utterly unsatisfied. As a great fan of murder and mystery, I feel that, in refusing to offer the truth, author and director Richard Crawford misses the opportunity to wow the crowd. We’ve been challenged to investigate directly, but end up abandoned to our own conclusions.
Despite an overall solid performance from all the cast members, Code 2021 feels generally unconnected and not quite immersive enough to earn the name. The attention to detail is minimal, both in the presentation of the facts and in their staging: the presence of one small video camera, for example, has to suggest a live broadcast. On a few occasions, I felt caught between fiction and reality, especially when the discussion moved towards the risky field of racial clichés. Crawford doesn’t dig deeply enough to debunk them, but also doesn’t push the audience far enough to cause instinctive disapproval. Ultimately, my evening was entertaining, but certainly not as absorbing as an immersive production could be.
Written and Directed by: Richard Crawford
Producer: Secret Studio Lab
Booking Information: This event is now sold out.