TWELVE ANGRY MEN
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 18th May, 2015
Reginald Rose’s superlative play continues to do the rounds and I am delighted to have the chance to see the production again with a new cast. So intriguing and engaging is the writing that it doesn’t matter a jot if you’ve seen it before and know the outcome – any decent production of The Merchant of Venice can still get a lot of mileage out of its famous trial scene, and this production is no different. And, of course, if you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat and a half.
A jury is sequestered in a room on the hottest day of the year to deliberate their verdict in what seems like a straightforward murder case. A unanimous verdict either way is required. Eleven vote guilty but one lone voice dissents. This is Juror 8 played with calm assertiveness by Jason Merrells. Merrells is the morals of the piece, chipping away at the presumptions and prejudices of his fellow jurors, gradually winning them over to his way of thinking. It is no accident that designer Michael Pavelka puts him in a white suit. It’s subtle symbolism in a muted colour palette and a thoroughly naturalistic production.
The set is evocative of place and weather conditions. The master stroke is the large table around which the jurors all gather from time to time. It’s on a revolve, moving imperceptibly so that our viewpoint is forever changing. The table, as well as the tables, is turned!
Director Christopher Haydon choreographs the actors so that the stage is never static, while maintaining a naturalistic air to their behaviours. Of those jurors – all of whom do a grand job – those that stand out for me are Denis Lill as an irascible racist loudmouth, Gareth David-Lloyd as a glib advertising executive, Alexander Forsyth as the youngest of the bunch, and Paul Beech as the eldest. Robert Duncan is a counterpoint to Merrells, but it is Andrew Lancel as Juror 3 who provides the emotional punch of the evening as the hothead with his own personal agenda.
An electrifying couple of hours that has you gripped from start to finish, it’s also amusing and thought-provoking, reminding us in these dark days of hanging fan Michael Gove as Minister for Justice, that once you carry out a death sentence, there is no going back.