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The Cast of 12 Angry Men - Photo credit Jack Merriman
The Cast of 12 Angry Men - Photo credit Jack Merriman

Twelve Angry Men: Review

Home » Reviews » Twelve Angry Men: Review

Everyone loves a court room drama – at the moment on TV you can watch televised trials in Scottish courts and listen in on juries in a mocked murder trial. Tie this in with our current obsession with true crime and you can see why resurrecting 12 Twelve Angry Men on the stage is a clever move.

The 1954 play originated out of writer Reginald Rose’s own experience as a juror in New York where he says: “We got into this terrific, furious, eight-hour argument in the jury room”.

For a writer this was gold dust. Rose went on to write a television play before his work was transferred to the stage and then adapted by Sydney Lumet and starting Henry Fonda. The rest is history, as they say.

The Cast of 12 Angry Men - Photo credit Jack Merriman
The Cast of 12 Angry Men – Photo credit Jack Merriman

The difference with Rose’s play is that this is not in fact a court room drama but a jury room one, The reason it works so well is that the action is transposed from the jury room with its judge, prosecutor, defence and defendant, to the jury room. The trial has ended but is played out again by the jurors for the sake of the audience. As the play progresses we begin to feel as though we had been sat in the public gallery hearing evidence alongside the jury.

The play opens on a hot and sweaty afternoon with all 12 itching to be free of their responsibilities and head off to that night’s ball game – all agree that the teenage boy accused of stabbing to death his father with a switch knife is guilty. All except one.

Jason Merrells in 12 Angry Men - Photo credit Jack Merriman
Jason Merrells in 12 Angry Men – Photo credit Jack Merriman

Mention must be made of the superb stage design for this production: you get a real sense of the claustrophobia of the jury room and the outside world beckoning them to freedom. They are stuck inside while daylight and freedom sits waiting outside, but it is they who must decide whether a young man lives or is sent to the electric chair.

Given the reverence the film is held in and its classic status, it is no plot spoiler to say that the show rests on the ability of one man – Juror 8 played by Jason Merrells – to sow doubt among his fellow jurors as to the guilt of the defendant. He admits that he is not sure if the boy is innocent, but more Importantly he is not sure that he is guilty. It’s an understated yet powerful performance by Merrells as slowly but surely one, then two, then three jurors topple and come on his side to vote not guilty.

What Merrells – juror 8 – is really doing of course is what the boy’s defence lawyer should have been doing: picking holes in the prosecution case and challenging assumptions so that any verdict cannot be beyond reasonable doubt.

Rose’s other great dramatic trick was to use the jury room to explore the prejudices and character shortcomings of 12 very different men on the page – just as he had witnessed them first hand as a juror.

This is a gripping show which reveals how men act under pressure in a stifling atmosphere when they hold the power of life and death.

Twelve Angry Men is at The Lowry from 27 February to 2 March 2024.

Dave Porter
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Dave Porter
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Dave Porter Written by Dave Porter