Writer: Reginald Rose
Director: Christopher Haydon
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
Better known as a 1957 film starring Henry Fonda (and the only film Fonda ever produced), Twelve Angry Men began its life as a play filmed live for US TV. It was written by Reginald Rose, and it won him an Emmy award – the first of three in Rose’s career. The play has since led to many different versions and productions, while this latest Bill Kenwright production arrives in York direct from the West End. Tom Conti, recently voted Most Popular Actor in the West End in the last 25 years, stars as Juror 8, the rôle Fonda made famous.
The play follows a jury during a homicide trial. A dozen white males, indicative of typical juries of the time, retire to consider their verdict on a hot and later stormy New York day. They are trapped in the jury room until they reach a verdict and the play centres around how each juror interprets the evidence, as the arguments and counter-arguments ensue.
Michael Pavelka’s set consists of a main room with three large windows at the back. There are two side rooms: an anteroom where the guard sits and a bathroom where some of the action takes place. The main feature of the set is a 12-seater table, which rotates imperceptibly during the play. However, the action takes place in every part of the room, not just around the table. There is an oilcloth floor surface, a big old-fashioned radiator, ceiling fan and much-used water cooler. Costume varies slightly according to character, but captures the essence of smart formal clothing for men of the period.
Mark Howett’s lighting scheme includes a natural light effect coming from the windows, a sudden thunderstorm and the space lit by large bulbs in bulky shades when someone switches on the room lights.Christopher Haydon’s direction allows the actors to convey a sense of their individual characteristics in a script that demands a great deal of precision and impeccably timed interplay from all concerned.
Though the American accents may at times lack absolute perfection, each member of the cast delivers a sterling dramatic performance. Conti is effortlessly good, hardly breaking sweat as Juror 8, as he sends fellow jurors into fits of impatience, disbelief, rage and enlightenment. Sean Power excels as Juror 7, a man more interested in getting to the ball game, with a likeable swagger and perky movements. Andrew Frame plays a wonderfully aggrieved Juror 1, tasked with keeping the angry men in order. Edward Halsted gives a great performance as Juror 11, a German immigrant watchmaker whose experience of another regime gives him a deep appreciation of the American legal system. Andrew Lancel is very impressive as Juror 3, a man stubbornly fixated and letting his personal emotions colour his point of view.
The play is a masterpiece of its time, in turns thought provoking, moving and even humorous, despite the gravity of the subject. It makes many important points about the nature of the law and justice, in a drama that is wonderfully conceived and tightly written. The work required to get a dozen actors to interact this well together on stage is not to be underestimated. This production is well worth seeing and if there is any justice, the Grand Opera House will have a sell-out run.
Runs until: 18th April 2015