Tag Archives: Twelve Angry Men

Turning the Tables

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.

 

 

Jason Merrells  as Juror #8 (Picture: Steve O'Connell)

Jason Merrells as Juror #8 (Picture: Steve O’Connell)


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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