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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Bill Kenwright presents

Twelve Angry Men


Written by Reginald Rose

Directed by Christopher Haydon

Designs by Michael Pavelka

Lighting by Mark Howland

Sound by Dan Hoole

Garrick Theatre

7 Nov 2013 - 1 Mar 2014


In 1957, Reginald Rose’s 1954 television play, centring on the evolving conclusions of eleven initially condemning jurors, starring one of its’ producers, Henry Fonda as the lone voice of reason among them, became New York director Sidney Lumet’s first intelligent, thought provoking film. By then, James Dean was dead, the year of the teenager had passed and terms like ‘juvenile delinquent’ were common street corner vernacular. In this incarnation of Rose’s play, despite occasionally overly cautious direction from Christopher Haydon, its’ messages still resonate with theatre-goers who, if interval comments are anything to go on, actively sift through Hayden’s more questionable choices, in tandem with the storyline’s varied intrigues.

As you enter the comfortably grand, ambitiously cavernous (for this play) Garrick, Dan Hoole’s steadily shifting design provides a mood altering soundscape with its flowing traffic, hums and roars of ‘50’s Manhattan complimenting Michael Pavelka’s equally apt set design with its functional, government office accoutrements: angled venetian blinds hanging askance, retro metal fan and at its centre, large wood table and chairs. Sound and set add much to the sealed environment of the jurors tasked with deciding the fate of the play’s unseen, but constantly speculated about sixteen year old defendant, who stands accused of murdering his long abusive, violent father. The boy’s fate literally hangs in the ‘50’s all-male, white jurors hands, as the penalty for his alleged crime on ‘the hottest night of the year’ is the electric chair.  

It’s interesting to note that many top reviewers of this West End production automatically surmised that the sixteen year old boy (eighteen in the film) alleged to have stabbed his long abusive father to death, whose fate the jurors are discussing, must have been black, when in actual fact, in the New York of Bernstein’s West Side Story in which it is set, he was Puerto Rican. Such is the black and whiteness with which American story lines tend to be followed by British theorists, even in the absence of proof, for in this production, we neither see nor, hear the physical particulars of the defendant, apart from the fact that he is poor, has a history of being abused and retaliating through petty crimes, and was misrepresented by a disinterested attorney, who in his reduced circumstances, was surely, assigned by the state.

Starring in this thankfully non star vehicle in which all characters are nameless is Martin Shaw, a seasoned actor who skilfully infuses his character, Juror 8, the lone man reasoning on the side of truth, aka ‘reasonable doubt,’ from the beginning of the jury’s deliberation, has a more realistically grounded manner than Fonda did in the role, though his lines ring just as true. Think of Juror 8 as the voice of your conscience in the face of potentially unjust majority rule. Shaw’s actor son Luke is also effective and convincingly American in his role as foreman of the group, Juror 1. That said, it must be added that none of the actors’ accents falters in the least, despite the obvious logistical drawbacks inherent to a long tabled staging, of what has famously been, an intimately, close-up observation of the variegations of human nature. Though sight logistics are ingeniously addressed by use of an almost imperceptibly revolving table, this production could stand to benefit further from staging in a more intimate venue.

Comparisons to actors in the 1957 film will be inevitable by all but those unfamiliar with cinematic history and angriest big screen man, Lee J. Cobb, whose character, Juror No. 3, tragically personalises the circumstances of the case, is acted here by Jeff Fahey, who, though a man possessed by inner demons, at the outset at least, dons a seemingly, finer veneer. Aging, bitter racist, Juror No. 10, a role played with slightly more internalised gusto by veteran actor Ed Begley onscreen, though nearly inhabited by Miles Richardson here, inadvertently causes confusion by the facts that he seems more like Cobb’s juror in type, is younger than his own onscreen counterpart, and seems to have been assigned some of Lee J Cobb’s Juror 3’s booming bite. This baffling turn of intents obscures the play’s intriguing contrast between Richardson (and Haydon’s) Juror 10 and elderly Juror No. 9, played with appropriately tongue in cheek, common sense awareness of the disregarding of the wisdom of age by ’60’s iconic Man from Uncle actor Robert Vaughn, as well as vital variances between classist, anti-slum kid, axe grinder, Juror 3 and older, classic bigot Juror 10. Casting and directing issues aside, it’s obvious that all actors perform their roles to the best of their abilities, which is very well!

Juror 2, recognisable from his hesitancy and glasses as played by David Calvitto is physically, not the small, mousey man he tends to be, despite the fact that such obvious physical differences oft render inborn bullies unconscious enough to wear their inner apes on their sleeves. Perhaps this variance emphasizes the fact that anyone in Rose’s deliberation room, as directed by Haydon, is fair game for the wrath of the minority, survival of the fittest, emotional bullies among them, mimicking larger society. A case in point is the intermittent cajoling of vacillating ad man, Juror 12, as played by Owen O’ Neill by aforementioned Jurors 3 and 10 (Fahey and Richardson), at times, in collusion with Juror 7, who views his tickets to a Yankee’s game as priority, over justice, in a bravado, off the cuff performance by Nick Moran. Remaining Jurors, Nos. 4, 5 and 11, enacted respectively, in an understated, but none-the-less stand-out performance by Paul Antony-Barber as a precise, but reasonable man, Ed Franklin as the youngest juror with the poorest background and Martin Turner, as the lone European aka ‘foreigner’ on the jury all lend a sense of variety and being their own men to the proceedings. Lastly, but in no way meant to be least, is Robert Blythe, who though an engaging actor, is realistically, too old to be playing cheery painter decorator/labouring man Juror 6, and his casting in the role may be more indicative of the ever present English class system than truer 1950’s US working world reality. Mr Blythe’s years also serve to lessen the impact of his character’s defence of eldest Juror, No. 9 (Vaugh), as, coming from him, his comments about having respect for the elderly tend to seem more drawn from his own fear than the inherent sense of justice of a man approaching middle age, as previously played.

But, in the final analysis, this play and this production of it are more about identifying one’s own demons, acknowledging them and putting them in perspective, than about condemning others and in that spirit, I applaud it as an effective, welcome production for the thinking theatre goer. As the metaphorical curtain descends on this fine cast, you’re apt to find yourself internally proclaiming, like No. 6 in The Prisoner before you, ‘I am not a number! I am a free man!’ Following your conscience as these characters ultimately do, you surely will be. I rest my case.
Garrick Theatre
Charing Cross Road
London WC2H 0HH
0844 412 4662
Mon – Sat 7:45 PM
Thurs – Sat 3PM
2 hrs 20 mins incl interval
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