A jury with Judge John Deed in it should count itself blessed. One that also includes Napoleon Solo from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. might just be thought greedy.
These two veteran champions of justice have tended to dish it out in different ways, but here, in this latest revival of Reginald Rose’s law court classic, they are working from the same script. I nearly said courtroom drama, but of course that is the very thing that it is not, for Martin Shaw, Robert Vaughn and their ten fellow members are confined to the jury room to reach a verdict on a sixteen-year-old defendant accused of stabbing his father to death. Not just confined, but locked in. Virtual prisoners, no less.
If you have seen any of the countless versions and reworkings since the famous 1950s movie by Sydney Lumet, you will know how the case ends. What I had forgotten since I last saw the stage play some ten years ago is the way it takes the tradition of the lawyer-led drama and upstages it. The conflicted jurors turn into thunderous advocates and forensic sceptics as the apparently open-and-shut case opens and opens beneath their querulous probing. They prove no better but no worse than the professionals across the passage, and in this beautifully paced production by Christopher Haydon their tussles with the truth, themselves and each other becomes an allegory for the American democratic process, in an age of political suspicion and national paranoia.
When I saw that Juror Number Eight – the Henry Fonda role in the movie – had gone to Martin Shaw, I feared an excess of Judge Deed expressions. Since the death of John Thaw, the nation looks to Shaw for its ration of tortured conscience facials. But no, not guilty; not one of those overburdened looks which Deed keeps shooting at Jenny Seagrove in the TV series; instead, a patient, dignified portrayal of a man determined to honour the principle of reasonable doubt but starting out in a minority of one.
If you have ever thought the play is meticulously researched, you are right. In fact it was lived. When he was a young scriptwriter in New York in the 1950s, Rose was called for jury service. It takes no imagination to see him sitting there – first in the court as the evidence unfolds, then in the jury room as the arguments rage – and realising that he is being handed the stuff of compelling theatre; not just the plot lines, but the dialogue, the characters, the suspense, the lot. He said as much himself. A few years before his death in 2002, he recalled feeling “knocked out and overwhelmed” by the experience. Nothing went to waste.
Though Number Eight is a huge and load-bearing role, this play is no star vehicle, and Haydon draws some wonderfully nuanced performances from Paul Antony-Barber as the diehard “Guilty” party, Vaughn as the freethinking old-timer and Owen O’Neill as the frustrated waverer.
Since last seeing it, I found myself where Rose had been; not in New York, of course, but at The Old Bailey, where I had been called to sit on the jury. It too was a murder trial. It too seemed pretty straightforward, but wasn’t. It too took hours and hours of deliberation, with patient and well-intentioned people turning into ill-tempered bigots under the strain of disagreement. It too was tense to the point of exhaustion, ending in a kind of rightness and something like catharsis. Much the same can be said of this clever, sympathetic reading of a play that justly outlives its peculiar epoch. Credit also to designer Michael Pavelka for the room’s dizzy view out over a country reaching for the sky but perilous with precipices.
Review by Alan Franks @alanfranks
Twelve Angry Men
Martin Shaw, Jeff Fahey, Nick Moran and Robert Vaughn star as jurors who have 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…
This new production of Twelve Angry Men brings to the stage the taut brilliance of the 1957 three-time Academy Award nominated film which was produced by and starred Henry Fonda, and is considered to be one of the great ‘must-see’ movies of all time.
Twelve Angry Men Trailer
Cast: Martin Shaw – Juror 8, Jeff Fahey – Juror 3, Nick Moran – Juror 7, Robert Vaughn – Juror 9, Luke Shaw – Foreman, David Calvitto – Juror 2, Paul Antony-Barber – Juror 4, Ed Franklin – 5, Robert Blythe – 6, Miles Richardson – Juror 10, Martin Turner – Juror 11, Owen O’Neill – Juror 12, Jason Riddington – Guard.
Author Reginald Rose
Director Christopher Haydon
Designer Michael Pavelka
Lighting Mark Howland
Sound Dan Hoole
Monday – Saturday, 7.45pm
Thursday & Saturday, 3pm
Duration: 2hrs 20mins including one interval
Tuesday 19th November 2013