‘Twelve Angry Men’ is a character study, revolving around a jury in a New York Court, deliberating over what appears to be an open-and-shut murder case involving a teenager stabbing his father. While 11 of the jurors start off sure of his guilt, one man wishes to talk it out, gradually persuading more and more jurors to change their mind as the case unravels.
I went to see the production with my father, since he is a fan of the film version, although ‘Twelve Angry Men’ has enjoyed theatre showings since 1964.
The play is currently showing at the Garrick Theatre, which is probably one of the best theaters I’ve visited. We sat in the stalls and had a very good view of the stage, along with so much legroom that we didn’t need to stand up to let people pass. The venue also has a dress circle and a grand circle, along with six private boxes. Despite its size, the theatre was either at or close to capacity when the production started.
‘Twelve Angry Men’ is well suited to the stage. The entire story takes place in a room where the jury deliberates over whether to give a verdict of guilty or not guilty. There is no need for fancy scene transitions, choreography or any effects beyond the sounds of the street outside. All that remains is the raw performance of the actors on the stage. It’s perfect for the dramatic theatre.
Having since watched the film, I have discovered that the play is very faithful to its source material. The script is an almost word-for-word reproduction of the highly acclaimed 1957 film starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb, with some slightly stronger language and a few small changes where the limited props used would be too small to see. With that in mind, you have to ask, why watch the play instead?
Well, the production really did put the “angry” in ‘Twelve Angry Men.’
The intensity of the acting on the stage is far greater than can be brought through the screen. The cast put across their characters’ prejudices and opinions far more forcefully than in the film, which doesn’t exactly have weak characters itself. All the actors performed their roles excellently, with many English actors speaking in perfect New York accents.
While no transitions are necessary beyond changes to lighting to highlight where in the room or the adjacent bathroom that conversations are taking place, there is one small, constant effect which is barely noticeable. This is the fact for the duration of the play, the table at which the men sit unperceivably rotates. This gives you a good view of all the jurors when they are seated. You’re rarely listening to a character speaking and are only able to see the back of his head.
The biggest difference between the film and the production is the actors themselves. Tom Conti played the dissenting Juror #8 as a much more reserved individual, contrasting more heavily with the men he is trying to persuade. William Gaminara, known for his role in the BBC’s ‘Silent Witness,’ pulls off a Brooklyn accent perfectly as he made the highly prejudiced Juror #10 into an even less likable character.
Jeff Fahey (above left) was excellent as the fierce and emotional Juror #3 and the instantly recognisable Robert Vaughn (‘Hustle’) weaved some great humour into the role of the senior Juror #9; a frail man with a bright and sceptical mind.
While the production may have been around for 50 years, the reactions of many members of the audience would imply that they were unfamiliar with the story. Having known little about it before seeing it myself, I have to say it really is a must see, and the intensity of the on stage drama is well worth experiencing. About as good of a courtroom drama as you will find.