Scott Brindle as Defence Attorney Stevens and Lucy Green as Karen AndreSophie Wilson with permission for Varsity

I urge everyone to go and see Night of January 16th — but not if you want to be satisfied.

This is not your ordinary whodunit, with everything explained and all parts fitting neatly into place. Instead, it is select members of the audience, acting as the jury, who decide whether the defendant is guilty or not. I found myself flitting between ‘guilty’ and ‘not-guilty’ frequently, and would have had a hard time casting my vote if picked to be a member of the jury. As is often the case when you’re undecided, it was only once the decision was actually made and the verdict delivered that I knew what I really believed — and it wasn’t the decision the jury came to.

My friend who accompanied me to the show described the courtroom as the ultimate theatre — and that is exactly what was proven here. Ayn Rand’s debut play uses the ‘stage’ of the courtroom to explore the beginnings of her ethical philosophy, which would later be known as Objectivism. Bjorn Faulkner, who is never seen in the play and who, from testimonies, seems to embody Rand’s Objectivism, is dead. District Attorney Flint (Kimberly Tongish, in a solid performance) attempts to prove the guilt of the often-grating Karen Andre (Lucy Green), a woman aptly defended by Defence Attorney Stevens (Scott Brindle). I was fascinated by the notion that, as these actors were performing their characters, they were also performing as their characters, attempting to convince the audience to vote one way or another.

“The injustice of ‘justice’ was exposed. Night of January 16th is a play that will stick with you”

The form of the play is truly unique. You sit watching a trial in session: a witness is called forward, interrogated by both sides, and then exits and makes way for the next. That is it. To an extent this limits the dramatic capacities of the play: it is for the most part exposition, often featuring just one character at a time, explaining their perspective on the disputed murder/suicide that preoccupies the play. However, the novel jury element and Rand’s plot-driven writing style keeps the production engaging in spite of some flat performances. Steven Kitson’s Junquist and Anna Marcelle’s Nancy Lee Faulkner come across as little more than caricatures, whilst Green’s Andre didn’t quite live up to what the character could have been. Andre as a character is full of depth — a rape victim who fell in love with her abuser, a powerful woman in business in the 1960s, an individual with powerful men swooning over her— and yet Green came across as sporting only a faux air of intelligence and superiority. That being said, it is by its nature a difficult play to perform — one that was evidently written by a philosopher rather than a dramatist.

Though the acting is at points mediocre, on the whole, the cast’s distinct characterisations highlight Rand’s philosophical themes very well. While the image of the deceased Faulkner presented to us by various witnesses gives us a flavour of Rand’s Objectivism, in District Attorney Flint we get a very clear opposing picture of normative morality. This contrast is not always so clear: Flint and Faulkner might serve as extremes but other characters present more realistically messy and confused ethical standpoints. The ultimate result is that you are left questioning perspective’s relationship to truth. The play shows just how hard discovering truth is — that is if capital T ‘Truth’ exists at all. In a way, your ethical beliefs are on trial just as much as Karen Andre is.

“The form of the play is truly unique”

Once the closing arguments were made, the chosen jury members simply cast their ballots: guilty or not guilty. Discussion wasn’t allowed, and I suppose they were made to vote from a combination of gut instinct and their own reasoning. There is a disorienting power in making the audience decide the verdict: though I wasn’t in the jury, I felt, as did my friend and those sitting next to us, that it made your judgement mean something. As a juror, you would have left the theatre with the possibility of either having condemned an innocent woman to imprisonment, or having let a selfish, ego-driven murderer get away without so much as a slap on the wrist. The injustice of ‘justice’ was exposed. Night of January 16th is a play that will stick with you — it will affect how you react to the stories you are told, and will make you think twice before you assume the guilt or innocence not just of those who are on trial but your friends and family too.


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Despite the profound themes, it is not a production without humour. The witness line is peppered with diverse humanity, from the kindness of Barry Brown’s John Hutchins to the cold, judgemental nature of Rosamund Payne’s Magda Svenson. The witnesses show people’s differing approaches to life and how it affects one’s relationship with the truth. Ultimately, I found that no story was entirely convincing — and regardless of the outcome, part of me would have remained unsure that it was the right one. Doubt can pierce any story, and it’s up to you, the audience, as potential jurors, to decide who you’ll side with on good faith. Don’t take the decision lightly; be careful of whose truth you accept — it might just reveal parts of yourself that you weren’t aware existed.