The Theatreguide.London Review
Garrick Theatre 2013-2014
A classic of solid, engrossing and accessible realistic drama, Reginald Rose's enduring play (first written for television, then film, then the stage) is also a prime and moving example of mid-twentieth-century liberal optimism, the faith that honourable men reasoning together can overcome differences productively.
Don't let that make this play sound too cerebral. Rose was wise enough to clothe his metaphor in a highly dramatic fiction that works even if you don't think beyond its boundaries, and Twelve Angry Men is on any level an exciting two hours of theatre.
We're in the jury room of a trial of a minority teenager accused of killing his father. The preliminary vote is eleven to one for conviction, the one holdout not convinced of the boy's innocence but just feeling that respect for him and the situation requires some discussion.
As he leads the others back through the case against the boy, cracks begin to appear and reasonable doubts to arise in their minds, first one and then another changing their votes.
Cynics might notice that the playwright a bit mechanically makes the jury a neat and convenient cross-section – there's one very logical one, one bored one impatient to get to a ballgame, one racist, one idealistic immigrant, and the like – but this serves the play well because each man takes his own route toward changing his mind, bringing variety and a string of small but effective dramatic climaxes to the play.
At the play's centre Martin Shaw brings the necessary gravitas to the holdout without (unlike Henry Fonda in the 1957 film) making him too saintly or wise.
Shaw convinces us that the man doesn't start from special knowledge or insight but is making it up as he goes along, feeling his way from a vague uneasiness toward a growing belief in the boy's innocence at the same time as the fellow jurors he's convincing.
There is strong support from Miles Richardson as the racist, Jeff Fahey as the embittered father with his own demons, Paul Antony-Barber as the immigrant, Nick Moran as the baseball fan and Robert Vaughan (visibly relying on a script) as a wise elder.
Christopher Haydon's direction and Michael Pavelka's design capture the claustrophobia of a closed room on a muggy day, the captive nervous energy believably moving people around the stage and a barely-perceptible rotation bringing all sides of the jury table in sight.
|Buy this title at AMAZON.COM or AMAZON.CO.UK|