The Exonerated examines the journey of five individuals wrongly sentenced to death in the USA.
Walking into the freezing Loft space at Chapel off Chapel, we encounter a dimly lit set cluttered with chairs. Five pin-spots at an angle illuminate the floor, casting light over Delbert Tibbs (Garikai Jani), a sort of narrator who ties the themes of these stories together through his poetry and axioms, while providing us with a retelling of his own journey. The aesthetics of the space suit the topic of the show.
Each of the characters have their own space within the set – their own chair or stool – from which they recount their stories. There’s a lot of sitting down and not much movement, a factor that reduces the energy and pace of the show, broken only by some faster and more chaotic scenes involving the police, lawyers or judges (Ben Taylor, Sam Lavery and Noelle Rego). These scenes chop into the flow of the narrative, they catch us mid-imagining and push us into the harsh reality of the stories being presented. Despite these moments, the flow of each scene still lacks dynamic movement, and there is a feeling of ‘sameness’ that transcends the work.
Despite the above, which is predominately a directorial choice, there is a great amount of subtly and delicacy in the performances. Jani carries the show and charms the audience with his wit and good humour. The four other protagonists (Joseph Green, Vuyo Loko, Karla Hillam and Jordan Armstrong) appear to find a sense of truth through the embodiment of their characters. Having said this, the work’s mix of verbatim text and naturalistic aesthetic seems to detract from its overall impact. With a text as powerful as this a cluttered space only detracts from the experience; many left feeling as though a bank space might have provided the audience with more room with which to imagine the events narrated.
The Exonerated is a delicate story of transcendence and, ignoring the slightly pushy connection between these stories and the assertion of traditional Christian values, the work proves to be an engaging exploration into the failures of the world’s biggest criminal justice system.