Sweatbox Jury

TWELVE ANGRY MEN

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 28th October, 2013

 

Reginald Rose’s play puts a twist on the courtroom drama, in that we spend the duration of the drama, behind the scenes in the jury room.  We listen to the dozen jurors argue and analyse their opinions of what seems at first to be an open-and-shut case.  A young man is accused of stabbing his father to death.  There is an eyewitness and even an earwitness.  The men believe their work will be done in minutes flat and they will be able to leave the hothouse atmosphere of the room and get on with their widely different lives, having paid lip service to their onerous civic duty.

But… Juror Number 8 pipes up.  He alone doesn’t vote Guilty.  Martin Shaw is superb as the quiet man, standing his ground.  His dissent sets off the fireworks that fill the rest of the two hours. Bit by bit the evidence is picked apart and just as gradually, more of the jurors begin to have doubts.  Every time the foreman (Luke Shaw) takes a vote, it’s an electrifying moment of theatre.

In the humid and oppressive atmosphere of a stormy evening, the men reveal their characters and their prejudices.  Rose gives us more than a murder mystery – the play is also a set of character sketches.  There is plenty for the excellent cast to get their teeth into.  Nick Moran brings energy as the brash loudmouth, eager to get to his baseball game.  Robert Vaughan brings quiet dignity and acuity as the most senior of the jurors.  Miles Richardson’s Juror 10 is a remarkable portrayal of a blue collar bigot, direct from the streets of Noo Yoik in the 50s. Edward Franklin as the youngest juror proves he can give as good as these acting heavyweights, but in truth, every man jack of them is compelling.

Director Christopher Haydon keeps the energy going.  Twelve men around a table could quickly become static and boring.  He keeps them moving, keeps the moments of contrast sharp, and the emotional intensity cranked up.  There is also humour in their heated interactions but what I didn’t expect is the emotional kick in the guts at the end.  Jeff Fahey is a commanding stage presence as the hothead, short-tempered Juror 3 with a forceful personality, whose personal bias is revealed in the final moments.  Fahey is so good throughout the piece but he tops it off with his moment in the spotlight.  I rarely give standing ovations to drama but I voted with my feet on this occasion, my applause only interrupted when I stopped to wipe my eyes.

Verdict: Guilty of providing a flawless and moving night at the theatre.

Sentence:  They will be taken from this place to a place in the West End to do a long stretch there.

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About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic http://williamstaffordnovelist.wordpress.com/ http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B008AD0YGO View all posts by williamstafford

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