Browse reviews

Brighton Year-Round 2023

Twelve Angry Men

Bill Kenwright Productions

Genre: Adaptation, American Theater, Drama, Mainstream Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton

Festival:


Low Down

What’s replicated here is a jury different to, but not unlike ours. Personalities and prejudices – even opinions of spouses – leak into a jury over time. Arguments aren’t reasoned in a vacuum, and Reginald Rose’s experience is authentic.

This is more than a first-rate revival. In this production it’s a must-see one, the definition of a superbly-made, timeless play.

Directed by Christopher Haydon, Designer Michael Pavelka, Lighting Designer Chris Davey, Sound Designer Andy Graham, Casting Consultant Anne Vosser

CSM Mark Wilkinson, DSM Lucie Jackson, Technical ASM Beatrice Wallbank, Head of Wardrobe Rebecca Swindells, Costume Superviosor SAdes Robinson-Craft.

Till November 25th and touring

Review

Reginald Rose’s 1954 TV play Twelve Angry Men is an unusual case of things being done backwards. It arrived at the stage in 1955 and finally and most famously film in 1957. Now fresh from the West End revival, it arrives at Theatre Royal, Brighton, directed by Christopher Haydon till November 25th.

Twelve men are empanelled after a judge deliberates the close of a trial. The vote must be unanimous either way ‘beyond reasonable doubt’; there can be no mitigating plea.

It’s a late summer afternoon with Michael Pavelka’s meticulous set of a brown-painted and wood-inlaid 1950s room where air-conditioning doesn’t work till electricity comes on with lighting, the heat’s stifling and the twelve circle round a table and chairs, perch, separate, face-off and virtually come to blows. There’s a baseball game imminent. People want supper.

The only thing wrong with Chris Davey’s gradated lighting is that it seems dark outside those storm-threatened sash windows, though we never get beyond 7pm and it’s still August. The clever sound of a trolley deafens before curtain-up in Andy Graham’s design. There’s a reason.

It’s otherwise silent as Jeffrey Harmer’s Guard leaves them, to pop up when required to bring in more evidence as what should have been for some a five-minute frictionless chat turns into a day-long sweat for justice.

The twelve are known only by their numbers, and these are only once used. Eleven are convinced of an open-and-shut case of a deprived, abused boy finally snapping and stabbing his vicious jailbird father to death.

It’s Patrick Duffy’s Juror 8 (Dallas, Man From Atlantis) who gives a finely-understated performance to begin with, by hesitating doubt. He wants to ask questions. Speaking upstage almost to muffle the stature he takes on, he probes and gradually doubt shadows the others. He’s joined by several mainly older men who contribute examples, questions and, as several note, do the job the defence should have.

Paul Beech, in a gently-understated performance (you can see hm as Mr Brownlow, as he has been, but also Lear for Jonathan Miller) surprises others. Beech’s Juror 9 applies logic and begins to crack open, to the ire of a hard core of objectors. Samarge Hamilton (Juror 5), who knows the neighbourhood, questions the angle of a knife (rather like Mr Tibbs in a left-handed killing).

Paul Lavers (Juror 2), who begins confused, clears his head visibly. What Rose shows is the older men first to doubt: far less judgemental, far more prone to angle their questions. It’s a neat subversion of conservative typecasting, and there’s many parts here for older men.

Kenneth Jay’s watchmaker (Juror 11) applies new logic too: the immigrant who’s the butt of another kind of racist jibe. But to counter such bullying there’s Mark Heenehan’s decent and reasonable working man (Juror 4), a finely-calibrated study of someone who single-handedly can keep order with his fists: but votes with his head for evidence. Finally of smaller parts the solid, reluctant but scrupulous Foreman Owen Oldroyd, litmus test of decency and initial unreflection makes a move.

There’s formidable conflict too. In a crome-coloured jacket Gray O’Brien (Coronation Street, Peak Practice), is terrific as the mouthy racist (Juror 10) who simply bases everything on appalling generalisations till exposed. He’s electrifying in one set speech. AD-man Ben Nealon (Soldier Soldier, Juror 12) ever selling himself is memorable as someone who, like advertisers the world over can see two sides simultaneously, and his screeches and reverses downstage right are memorable for one set-piece.

There’s a great few scenes from sport-obsessed Michael Greco (EastEnders, Juror 7), who with a skirling thick Brooklyn accent virtually never takes his hat off, always placing bets on time coiled like a spring for a game that with storm-clouds brewing, might never happen. And in a volte-face is made to fight for his new position by Juror 11 who doesn’t want him to agree for the wrong reasons of agreeing just to get away. Greco’s kinetic leaps and cross-grained energy keep the boppy end of deliberations as others pace either more deliberately or threateningly.

Gary Webster (Minder, Family Affairs Juror 6) is implacable as the condescending, patrician, blinkered stockbroker who needs his glasses cleaned, literally. Webster beautifully gauges when everything hangs in his judgement’s balance. It’s another quietly thrilling moment.

Finally there’s furious fist-ready, almost terminally-wounded Tristan Gemmill (Coronation Street, Casualty, Juror 3), whose son’s assault and desertion returns several times like a new stabbing. Gemmill shows why he’s played Hotspur and why too portraying pent-up rage and hurt can explode several times yet still reach a terrific climax of self-realisation.

What’s replicated here is a jury different to, but not unlike ours. Personalities and prejudices – even opinions of spouses – leak into a jury over time. Arguments aren’t reasoned in a vacuum, and Rose’s experience is authentic.

I can attest to that, having been foreman of a rape trial, where my verdict contradicted the compromise one of all eleven of my fellow-jurors ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. I felt an obligation to the victim, and kept people from their dinner. It’s the loneliest place, especially invidious as foreman; yet after, I was strangely congratulated for holding out. Unanimous was demanded, till it wasn’t.

This is more than a first-rate revival. In this production it’s a must-see one, the definition of a superbly-made, timeless play.

Published