THE LATE Bill Kenwright, producer of this latest version of ‘Twelve Angry Men’, would have been very happy with the reception it got on press night at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre.
Along with his big musical revivals, Kenwright had a knack of taking classic films and making them into successful stage shows. That included Shawshank Redemption, The Exorcist and Brief Encounter.
Twelve Angry Men is a unique piece of drama where the fate of an 18-year-old accused of murdering his abusive father is to be decided by an all male jury – every one with a separate agenda.
It is set in New York County circa 1957 where the only penalty the judge can award if the teenager is found guilty is death. In the jury room the foreman takes an initial vote expecting it to be a unanimous foregone conclusion of guilty as the evidence they had all listened too seemed overwhelming.
It turns out though there is one dissenter – which makes the other 11 jurors very angry. His reasoning is not so much about innocence but that the guilt is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
What follows is a battle of minds where sides become taken, prejudices surface and the meaning of justice becomes blurred in the pursuit in reaching a communal verdict.
In the original film Henry Fonda played the dissenting juror number 8, giving what many critics regard as the greatest performance of his illustrious career.
Having only seen Patrick Duffy on stage once before in a somewhat lame production of ‘Catch Me if You Can’ I must admit I was expecting more ‘soap than substance’.
Happily I was wrong, Duffy gave an intelligent and inclusive performance blending in with the other ‘excellent eleven’ to give an edge of your seat, night of fine drama.
In truth every cast member is worthy of mention and gave up unique characterizations. I was particularly taken with Tristan Gemmill as Juror 3, who struggled with his own father/son demons, Gray O’Brien as the aloof and narcissistic Juror 10, and Paul Havers as the more compassionate Juror 2.
The set, designed by Michael Pavelka was perfect. The jury room has doors off to well worn washrooms on one side and a corridor back to the courtroom on the other. It is an unpleasant festering space oozing with sweat, designed to keep deliberations as brief as possible and bring in the verdict.
Dominating the room is a very slowly revolving communal boardroom table (so slow you don’t spot it moving) allowing every juror to be centre stage at the right moment.
At one point there is a thunderstorm with the rain cascading down the windows. The jurors race to close them, this is so real you can almost feel it yourself.
Christopher Haydon directs magnificently, bringing out the best in everyone and every situation.
RIP Bill and thank you for one of my best nights of theatrical drama this year.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose reviews