Twelve Angry Men begins with the sonorous voice of an unseen judge instructing a jury before they have to deliberate the innocence or guilt of a defendant in a murder trial. After he speaks, the curtain on which is displayed the scales of justice goes up and a guard leads the twelve men into the jury room. This is where they have to decide not only whether the defendant is innocent or guilty but also what his ultimate fate will be because the judge has told them, that if he’s guilty, then the only sentence he can apply is the death penalty.
It’s New York in the early 1950s so there are no women on the jury, so we get twelve men of various ages, not all of whom are angry but it’s a great title so let’s not quibble. The twelve have in their hands, the life of a sixteen-year-old black boy who allegedly has stabbed his father to death. They immediately take a vote and it’s eleven to one in favour of a guilty verdict; only one of them, Juror 8 (they’re not named) has some doubts and he’s going to have to convince the other eleven that they might just be wrong. Juror 8 himself isn’t convinced but he thinks they should talk it through before they send a young man off to his death and that’s what the rest of the play is about – can he convince the other eleven that there’s a reasonable doubt? It’s a tough ask as some of the jurors have fixed prejudices, being convinced not only by the evidence they’ve been shown but by their own pre-determined racist and bigoted views – can they be turned?
Twelve Angry Men is unusual in being not a courtroom drama but a jury room one. This is a proper ensemble performance and all twelve actors are superb and they all get their moment in the spotlight to expound on their views. However special mention must be made of Jason Merrells as Juror 8 who in his laid-back, cool, analytic manner is the voice of reason and seems to be prejudice-free. Michael Greco as Juror 7 is a ball of energy in a pork-pie hat who’s desperate to get it all over as he’s got tickets for the ball game that evening and Tristan Gemmill as Juror 3 whose powerful speech at the end of the play is extremely intense and moving.
Michael Pavelka’s atmospheric jury room set is spot-on and it’s bathed with a sepia glow from Chris Davey’s lighting design. It’s a stifling and claustrophobic setting and you can almost see the heat of the room where the fans don’t work and the jurors are steaming – metaphorically and physically – and you can cut through the atmosphere with the knife that forms part of the evidence.
Reginald Rose wrote Twelve Angry Men as a television play which was first shown in 1954 before it was adapted for the stage and most famously as a film starring Henry Fonda which was released in 1957. Unusually for a play written over seventy years ago, it hasn’t dated very much and still resonates all these years later. There are characters in it who if they were alive today, would be followers of Donald Trump and some of the strong, racist language still has the power to shock an audience. It’s about justice and morality as well as prejudice– subjects that will always have relevance and always be the subject of fierce debate.
Reginald Rose never wrote anything as successful as Twelve Angry Men but he did write a play that unlike many others written about the same time, deserves to be revived. It may be over seventy years old but it wears its age well and it makes contemporary audiences confront their own prejudices and preconceptions and look at themselves through the prism of what would they do in the same situation – this is a compelling and powerful piece of theatre.
Review by Alan Fitter
A jury has murder on their minds and a life in their hands as they decide the fate of a young delinquent accused of killing his father. But what appears to be an open and shut case soon becomes a huge dilemma, as prejudices and preconceived ideas about the accused, the trial, and each other turn the tables every which way, until the nail-biting climax.
Reginald Rose’s gripping drama, which has played a record-breaking season in the West End, brings the 1957 three-time Academy Award-nominated film (regarded as one of the ‘100 Best Movies of All Time’ by Variety) to the stage in this riveting production.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN will star Jason Merrells (Casualty, Emmerdale), with Tristan Gemmill (Coronation Street, Casualty), Michael Greco (EastEnders, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes), Ben Nealon (Soldier Soldier, Doctors), Gary Webster (Minder, Family Affairs) and Gray O’Brien (Coronation Street, Peak Practice).
Completing the cast are Paul Breech, Samarge Hamilton, Jeffrey Harmer, Mark Heenehan, Kenneth Jay, Paul Lavers, Owen Oldroyd and Adam Philip Bloom.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN is written by Reginald Rose, and directed by Christopher Haydon. Associate Director is Tim Welton, design by Michael Pavelka, lighting design by Chris Davey and sound design by Andy Graham.
Twelve Angry Men is at Richmond Theatre from Monday 5th February to Saturday 10th February 2024.
Mon-Sat at 19:30
Wed and Sat at 14:30
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The Green, Richmond, TW9 1QJ