Originally published on Exeunt
We wait in the anteroom in anticipation. People gather round in their groups and discuss the possibilities – who is he? what crime has he allegedly committed? Everything about this case is top secret, presumably so the press don’t get hold of it. Official Secrets Act maybe. Or could it be terrorism? National Security issue? Espionage? Nobody knows; we are together in that at least, all in the dark. We don’t know each other, but we all have at least one other friend with us – do we need someone familiar for support, an emotional crutch or a devil’s advocate? Surely the crime can’t be that heinous… Can it?
Even the location is a secret, or at least it was until a few hours beforehand. It looks like it used to be a council chambers, a town hall in deepest, darkest East London. Now, as we are ushered into this wood-panelled reception room, we spot guests eating dinner, oblivious to the magnitude (or not) of the event that may (or may not) unfold down the corridor. It doesn’t feel like a court though – another tactic to evade the newspapers perhaps. If anything, it feels like a hotel, a boutique establishment filled with a strange combination of hipster locals and the corporate upper classes. Maybe this is a ruse too; are they staying here, or is this just another smoke screen to throw us off scent? The anticipation is almost unbearable.
Suddenly, we are accosted by Rip Love. Clad in a garish metallic gold suit and with more chest hair than Austin Powers, his laidback excitable attitude stands out like a sore thumb amidst the décor, like a secret lovechild of Russell Brand and Julian Clary. With his faithful camerawoman (name unknown, unimportant) behind him, capturing our deer-in-the-headlight expressions, he talks us through proceedings as if he’s a disgruntled tour guide and we are the last group of the day – from another place and only able to understand the absolute basics of what he is saying. The lack of press around Code 2021 becomes all too clear. This isn’t about the privacy of the accused, or even of the victims. Yes, the defence is famous – reigning Middleweight Champion Mike Lewis, charged with the brutal murder of Olympian girlfriend Alice Duvall in their lofty London apartment. But the case is the antithesis of respecting privacy. This is the first ever completely televised murder trial on Trial TV, where we as the 50 strong jury decide, live to the world, Mike Lewis’ fate. The ultimate Big Brother – a high stakes exercise in crowd (or will it become mob?) mentality. Mr Love is almost beside himself with glee; a career-making exclusive that will propel him to fame and fortune that, given his shoddy hosting performance, he would otherwise never have reached.
Once the surprise is revealed, the remaining proceedings seem a tad bland by comparison. We are shuffled into the main court room, heavily laden with deep green leather and more wood panelling. The barristers enter – the prosecution a shark circling her bait, the defence a protector of the legal system and the accused man’s saviour. “All rise” for the judge. Opening statements, cold and collected by one party, impassioned and emotional by the other. We are notified of some breakthroughs in technology that allows us to view a to-scale structural representation of the apartment. In 2021 it is possible to recreate the night of the alleged murder in a fully reconstructed duplex apartment, even the tiniest detail considered and accounted for. Android copies of the accused, the witnesses and the victims re-enact two versions of events – one for the prosecution and one for the defence. A rare breakaway from the otherwise soporific state of proceedings here, as an android Alice Duvall is strangled with startling reality twice in the space of 10 minutes.
The real witnesses are then presented and cross-examined, almost as robotic as their android counterparts previously seen. Ultimately, the stronger barrister, the better storyteller, presents their case more effectively. Is that all a trial really is, an exercise in who can act more convincingly? Even the judge seems convinced, objections are sustained or overruled in favour of the defence. The accused takes the stand and a hush falls over the courtroom; as if it wasn’t expected, as if he wasn’t in the courtroom the entire time. He doesn’t perform as well as the defence may have hoped – but no matter, the angry outburst makes for great TV. With Mr Love and the cameras in the background, everything is hammed up; twists and turns present themselves in abundance, none more so than the surprise intervention of a journalist plant, here to encourage the audience to speak up and present their findings, their interpretation of the facts. A final twist to the legal system (now that it’s 2021) – we as the jury are allowed to explore the reimagined apartment, a 50-strong horde of detectives to pick up on evidence otherwise missed by an apparently inept police force.
Now we are involved, we are much more vocal – do our opinions cloud our observations of the facts? When left alone to deliberate, the answer is most certainly yes. If convicted, the criminal will face his sentence in the mysterious Studio 3; if acquitted, the trial will end in the court room. Unsurprisingly curiosity gets the better of some of us and we vote “guilty” to see the sentence carried out – it is entertainment after all, mob mentality indeed. But reason prevails, enough of us vote “not guilty” to see the tearful reunion of Lewis with his mother and his even more exhilarated barrister. We shuffle back out the court room, left unshaken and underwhelmed by the overall experience.
PRODUCED BY Secret Studio Lab
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY Richard Crawford
UNTIL 20TH OCTOBER 2016