Twelve Angry Men

Posted by Laurence Green

Reginald Rose's taut courthouse drama, Twelve Angry Men, is revived in an excellent new production at the Garrick Theatre.

12 Angry MenIt is generally assumed that the courtroom is the guaranteed place to provide gripping drama but Reginald Rose proves that it is in fact the jury room where tension can reach fever pitch in his play Twelve Angry Men, revived in an excellent new production, directed by Christopher Hayden at the Garrick Theatre.

The action centres on twelve jurors locked in a stiflingly hot jury room, who are asked to assess what initially looks like an open and shut case, that of a 16 year-old black youth from a slum home, accused of fatally stabbing his violent father to death. The men who have to decide whether the teenager lives or dies, are convinced of the guilt of the accused. But one juror is reluctant to rush to a decision and feels there may be reasonable doubt about the accused. His hesitation is the first step in what will become an examination of the way prejudice and circumstance can influence important decisions and impair justice.

Originally written for television in the early 1950s, the drama later became a stage play and popular 1957 film, and the current absorbing production proves its timeless appeal. Admittedly things have changed since it was first written and we no longer have all white, all male juries. But the piece still has a lot to teach us about the way we bring our own preconceptions to play in a court case and that the true arena of justice is in the minds of men.

Michael Pavelka’s  realistic set places the action on an imperceptible revolve, shifting the audiences perspective as the jury’s view of the case slowly changes and  bringing each member of the jury into focus.

As the eloquent and forceful voice of liberal conscience Martin Shaw, stepping into the role played on screen by Henry Fonda, gives a persuasive performance as the sole dissenting juror. In his cream linen suit, he is a decent, capable individual, an architect by trade, willing to stand his ground against the misguided mob to see that justice prevails. He receives strong support from Jeff Fahey as a resolutely fierce figure, the most intransigent of the “guilty” lobby, tormented by his own disastrous relationship with his son, Michael Richardson as a blue-collar racial bigot, Robert Vaughan as the sceptical senior juror who doodles away before coming up with shafts of commonsense, and Martin Turner as a European immigrant, deeply concerned about the justice system in his adopted country.

Never have the words “beyond reasonable doubt” been so sorely tested as in this thought-provoking play which lingers in the mind long after the final curtain has fallen.


Twelve Angry Men

Runs until Saturday 1 March 2014 at the Garrick Theatre


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