(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on 11 May)
Most of us know Reginald Rose’s now-classic play about 12 jurymen arguing the case for and against convicting a 15-year old for the murder of his abusive father through the Sydney Lumet form starring Henry Fonda of 1957. But the stage vrsion has just as illustrious a pedigree and is once more on tour in Christopher Haydon’s production.
Haydon keeps the 1950s setting and Michael Pavelka’s set evokes the physical as well as mental and emotional heat generated as what seems like an open-and-shut case is splintered by one juror’s determination to vote not guilty, because he has “reasonable doubts” a specified by the off-stage summing-up by the judge.
More than the usual racial and social prejudices of the period come tumbling out as the arguments thicken, occasionally tipping over into actual violence. From the young man who has tickets for a basket-ball game (so much more important than whether or not a teenager is sent to the electric chair) through the rough-cast red-necks to the more thoughtful older men, the tension builds as minds are changed, not always for the most obvious of reasons.
Jason Merrell leads the cast as Juror 8 whose main opponents are Robert Duncan as the obstreperous Juror 4 and Andrew Lancel’s Juror 3. Denis Lill contributes a fine character study of the outsider Juror 10, a man whose past has included being suspected and despised; Andrew Frame is the foreman of the jury.
The first couple of scenes were a bit of a blur; a case of mumble and gobble while the audience came to terms with the mid-American accents. As the arguments develop, so did the clarity of speech as well as action, so that there was a real sense of being locked in that airless juryroom as the minutes tick by and apparently solid evidence reveals its weaknesses.
Twelve Angry Men runs at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff until 16 May.