Twelve Angry Men
This Birmingham Rep production directed by the Gate’s Christopher Haydon has had its run again extended and has had several changes of cast since it was reviewed by Philip Fisher last year.
The play had its origin in Reginald Rose’s own service on a jury for a manslaughter case and led first to a 1954 television play, then the film version three years later and a first theatre staging in 1964. It doesn’t matter that you may have seen it and know the outcome for it is the interaction of the characters that bring it about and the issues that it raised that this play is about.
This is a production that grips, both because Rose’s script is so well constructed and because it is packed with fine performances.
Tom Conti now plays the architect juror who is the sole juryman who at first has any “reasonable doubt” that a sixteen-year-old from the worst part of town has been responsible for the murder of his violent father.
His gentle understatement and vocal hesitancies are a perfect match for the character. William Gaminara, who now plays Juror 10, adamantly against him, bigoted, rude and with no sense of civic duty, is, in stark contrast, an explosive powder keg.
Jeff Fahey is the other almost unconvincible juror, a powerful performance of cold-hearted conviction with a deeper revelation behind it. Robert Vaughn has the kindly, well-humoured precision of the elderly intellectual Juror 8 who is first to join the architect in question the incontrovertibility of the prosecution evidence.
Christopher Ettridge is particularly moving as immigrant Juror 11, determined to do his democratic duty as an American citizen. Paul Antony-Barber convincingly grapples with the challenge to Juror 4’s fixed conviction, Sean Power is the fast-talking salesman, worried about getting to get the game, Luke Shaw the Foreman and Edward Franklin the youngster from the accused’s own neighbourhood.
With Andrew Frame and David Calvitto as the other jurymen we see gradually reconsidering their positions and Jon Carver as the Guard outside the jury room, this is a company that gives reality to a fascinating mixture of characters.
Against that reality of performance, Michael Pavelka’s wall-less setting with practical washroom in contrast to its visible grid and sound of E-trains rushing through the theatre, sharp changes in lighting states and a dramatic thunderstorm all have a conscious theatricality that gives a Brechtian awareness, sharpening attention to the content of a play that not only presents us not only with a detective story turned inside out and a cross-section of American society but a critique of the attitudes and prejudices rampant within it.
American justice might no-longer allow an all-male all-white jury like this one, but this play has lost none of its bite and this production is excellent theatre.