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?
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.
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.
Mon-Sat at 19:30
Wed and Sat at 14:30
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The Green, Richmond, TW9 1QJ