A world-class surgeon, convicted of attempted rape. Only 2% of sexual assault claims are false, yet conviction must be beyond reasonable doubt. Sophie Talbot reviews The Justice Syndicate:

Neuroscientist Dr Kris De Meyer reckons our decisions are made up of a whopping 95% intuition, and just 5% reasoning.

That can’t be right, can it?

Well, The Justice Syndicate, a compelling psychological experiment-cum-theatre piece that looks at how we make decisions, suggests it might be.

The show is a collaboration between Dr De Meyer, computational artist Joe McAlister and theatre company fanSHEN, who are all about audience-centric experiences. Here, the ten audience members sit around a wooden table, an iPad at each seat.

Except we’re no longer an audience. We’re a jury. And we must decide whether a world-class child-cancer surgeon is guilty of attempting to rape his patient’s single mother.

You wouldn’t be surprised to find a gavel lying around the BAC’s echoing chamber, with its solid wood floor and magisterial wooden beams. But it’s McAlister’s impressive computer system that really makes the fictional case tangible. The iPads cleverly represent an age where social media is used to serve up justice, and they guide us through the evidence, offering up testimonies and character witnesses. The technology works so seamlessly that the decision-making process always remains centre-table.

The evidence presented is ambiguous at best. Essentially it’s the victim’s word against the accused. And so The Justice Syndicate, this gripping courtroom simulation, poses an impossible decision, focusing our attention on how we’re going to make it.

The Justice Syndicate demands that we come to a verdict as a group, skillfully eliciting our involvement by prompting us to read evidence aloud and discuss the case together. The collaborators purposefully manufacture a fictional case that ignites feeling. We must be certain beyond reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt. But we all agree that our guts are telling us one thing and our heads (and the evidence) another. Should we strive to verify our group feeling, our collective intuition, or corroborate the facts in front of us?

The show pokes holes in our justice system, perhaps unwittingly, which is testament to its intricacy. Only 2% of sexual assault claims are false, yet there needs to be evidence beyond reasonable doubt to convict a defendant, which isn’t always the case.

It feels as if there’s an injustice in such a justice system, based as it is on rationale. But that’s the way it has to be.

So the way we vote, unable to separate our biases from fact, ourselves from the social pressures of the group, stands apart in the stark light of the post-show discussion.

And this post-show chat feels as important as the discussions that take place within the show itself. Artists don’t often want to speak outright about their piece, but these guys do. By perfectly executing a scenario that shows us how little we use our capacity for reason, and then by helping us understand why, the collaboration hopes that we’ll step back when confronted with similar, real-life situations and take a more open-minded, rational approach to making decisions.

It’s hard not to be guided by emotion and intuition in a world where there are far too many of these events occurring. The Justice Syndicate doesn’t dispute this. Instead it provides a remarkably astute, eye-opening piece of theatre that delicately and profoundly highlights the importance of taking a different approach. One where decisions are rationalised and reason is worth a bit more than 5%.

★★★★☆

The Justice Syndicate played at Battersea Arts Centre until 23 February 2019. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the venue website.