Designed theater is always a leap of faith – and it is even more so in a busy quarter at Cambridge, as we desperately try to steal free time to create a production from scratch in a matter of weeks. So why do it? I think there is something so generative about this form of theater; it gives such an opportunity for actors and team members to think about what they think the theater should be and to attempt to implement it. Leading The Old Bailey Alumni Network has been a wild ride and has tested my faith to the max – facing a main slot at ADC before you even get a script, or knowing what the show will look like can be completely overwhelming. But it has also been consistently surprising and rewarding, as the actors heroically rose to the task and collaboratively created a show that is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I was stunned by the diversity of voices stored in these archives”
People keep asking me what this show is – and it’s something that’s hard to communicate just through a poster, something that’s definitely not self-explanatory. Basically it all started when I came across Old Bailey Online Proceedings, a fully open database of archived court cases ranging from the 1600s to the 1920s. I was stunned by the diversity of voices that are stored in these. archives and the fact that we have access to the real words of historically marginalized people in London: queer Londoners, BIPOC Londoners, working class Londoners, immigrants and sex workers have all, literally, had their days in court. The only conclusion you can draw from reading these testimonials is that 18th century London was much more diverse, queer, and breaking the rules than the Austenian culture we have become accustomed to in the mainstream media.
We have worked with an array of transcripts and let our imaginations run wild on the memories, relationships and personalities of people only remembered as criminals, tried at the Old Bailey courthouse. The result is, I would say, surprisingly exhilarating and fun. The show takes place at an imaginary party, thrown for the ghosts of those who were tried at the Old Bailey, and at that party we have an open bar and a live DJ that offers classic / hip hop mashups. incredibly creative (courtesy of Eliza Pepper, production’s resident DJ). At this party, the characters can then recall their pasts and confront old resentments, all while being dressed like new (in Ella Muir’s beautifully curated costumes) and holding a vial of mead. There are, of course, moments in this piece that grapple with the intersectional issues of injustice and prejudice that are quite heartbreaking – but there’s also such catharsis in how this brilliant cast gave voice to these. real people and, in the process, researched and got to know their characters more than the defendants. We’ve tried to approach these moments by mixing verbatim with the theater of lyrics written by our own cast, to emphasize that this archive only shows us a glimpse of the whole person. I am quite moved that these few people, chosen from a vast array of archived accused, have not been forgotten.
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