Home » London Theatre Reviews » Twelve Angry Men at Richmond Theatre | Review

Twelve Angry Men at Richmond Theatre | Review

I regret starting with a spoiler, but I couldn’t help pointing out that Twelve Angry Men is a misleading title: there are twelve jurors in a 1950s New York City murder trial, but they are not all angry. Some are never angry. Every time there’s a raised voice, there’s a call for civility. After all, twelve people, all angry at the start, yelling their heads off in Act One Scene One, page one, would leave the show with nowhere to go in terms of dramatic tension. A call, after some deliberation, for ‘another vote’ is met with some derision by Juror 7 (Michael Greco), who wonders if “maybe we can follow this one up with dancing and refreshments”. You’d be forgiven for thinking almost everything else is being adapted into a musical – why not this story too?

Jason Merrells - 12 Angry Men. Photo credit Jack Merriman 2024.
Jason Merrells – 12 Angry Men. Photo credit Jack Merriman 2024.

It’s not long before the narrative arc starts to get predictable, in the sense that there’s a knowing sense of how the story will end, whether one has seen the motion picture a dozen times, or more, or not at all. The intrigue, then, lies in the journey, and Reginald Rose’s (1920-2002) writing is strong and sophisticated, with most people in the audience able to find at least someone amongst the jury with whom they agree with and/or identify with, if only to some extent. And there’s quite the choice: Juror 12 (Ben Nealon) doodles on a sketch pad whilst arguments and counterarguments are flying back and forth. Then there’s Juror 11 (Kenneth Jay) who calmly replies to Juror 10 (Gray O’Brien), the latter demanding to know why 11 is “so goddamn polite”. “For the same reason you’re not. It’s the way I was brought up.” Juror 7, meanwhile, wants to get things wrapped up because there’s a sporting fixture on in the evening.

An off-stage judge (I couldn’t see the actor’s voice credited in the show’s programme) begins the show with instructions to the jury, also clearly setting out the jury’s parameters for the audience. Some attitudes prevalent in the 1950s drew shocked gasps from certain members of the audience at the performance I attended (one comment, in particular, was, by contemporary standards, decidedly ageist). Whilst the foreman (Owen Oldroyd) draws the discussion back towards the murder case before them, as he should, the digressions are helpful, providing insight into the jurors’ personal lives and circumstances. It is never difficult to find oneself engaged in proceedings, even if at face value it is, essentially, talking heads.

Michael Pavelka’s set design suits the period in which the play is set, and the blocking is excellent for a proscenium arch theatre – perhaps a production ‘in the round’ could have the jurors sat around the table as they would in reality. Occasionally, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper came to mind, with everyone visible to the viewer. I was so invested in the story and its characters I wanted to know what happened to the jurors after they reached their verdict, even though it’s a fictional story.

Different perspectives are presented in different ways in a production that pays sufficient attention to detail. Not every American accent was up to scratch in every line. Nonetheless, there are some very wide implications in very many situations explored here – and more than ever in the high-pressured world in which we live, the temptation is there to reach conclusions without having performed a thorough examination of all the available information. A highly relevant and engrossing production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

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.

Performances
Mon-Sat at 19:30
Wed and Sat at 14:30

View All Shows Booking at Richmond Theatre
The Green, Richmond, TW9 1QJ

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1 thought on “Twelve Angry Men at Richmond Theatre | Review”

  1. I am afraid, that it actually could be that the play is adapted into a musical sometime in the future What I found slightly worrying though is that the producers/director could not resist trying to turn it into a comedy here and now, or something of that sort at least. Some of the laughter of the audience I took at first as a reaction to a seriousness of the issues laid bare that a lot of people do not like to address and experience and thus cover up by laughter. But I then realised that the way some of the lines were delivered were intended that way and even delivered with the mandatory laughter pause following it. For all those of the audience who might not be sure if they should laugh or not and to make sure that the next sentence is not drowned out by the laugther. I do not want to be overly critical but I think that a play like this deserves to be taken seriously and that the themes are taken seriously. Trying to lighten the mood, in plays like this, only lessens the impact of the underlying issue being presented or actually destroys the play itself. Due to the injected comedy sections the whole display of anger, dispair and raw emotions becomes a bit of a farce or unbelievable. Instead of being pulled into the material and the displayed emotions we are being pushed out and reminded that this is only a play and that the men on the stage are not really that angry. Don’t worry they are just pretending, see they are making a joke. Never mind then the attempts of the actors to deliver believable characters, these attempts are consequently doomed to fail. The difficulty of a play is to make the person(s) who stands there right in front of you believable, actually make him/her the character he/she portrays. Unfortunately the inserted comedy snippets made this nearly impossible in this case.

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