Writer: Reginald Rose
Director: Christopher Haydon
Designer: Michael Pavelka
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Reginald Rose’s enduring 1950s classic Twelve Angry Men still has the power to enthrall 70 years on.
Now touring the UK, fresh on the heels of an extended run in the West End. The play follows the deliberations of an all-male, all-white jury in the (at first glance) open and shut case of a 16 year old black boy accused of killing his father. With the threat of the electric chair looming, one juror has the courage to question the evidence and begins to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of his fellow jurors.
Rose wrote the play after his own involvement in a manslaughter trial in the early 50s, the experience leaving such an impression he felt compelled to write the piece. First broadcast as a TV play in 1954, it was adapted for the stage in 1955 before hitting the big screen in 1957 under the direction of Sidney Lumet. There’s a good chance if you’ve seen the classic movie you will remember the famous ending, but there is so much to enjoy here that it really doesn’t matter: it is a compelling and emotionally charged tale of how our prejudices can wrongly cloud our judgement.
The staging perfectly captures the stifling heat of the claustrophobic jury room in the New York courthouse: Michael Pavelka’s effective set almost imperceptibly revolves, cleverly shifting our perspective on the proceedings.
Tensions and resentments arise as the evidence is unpicked and the strong performances from the outstanding ensemble cast, grab you and keep you in a vice-like grip until the verdict is reached.
It seems churlish to single out any performances such is the sheer quality throughout but Juror 8, famously played by Henry Fonda, is tackled by stage veteran Tom Conti. Conti has a natural charisma that even in his stillest moments makes you hang on every word and he imbues the rôle with a gentle authority lacking in the movie.Andrew Lancel’s belligerent Juror 3 is a powder keg waiting to blow, barely containing a simmering rage that has little to do with the trialand TV and theatre veteran Denis Lill perfectly captures Juror 10, a bigoted, bellicose blusterer. All that said the cast are, to a man, faultless.
The fast moving script still grips after all these years and Twelve Angry Men remains undeniably a theatrical tour de force.
Runs until Saturday 27 June 2015 then touring