Culture Writer Rachel Shaper reviews Twelve Angry Men finding it to be a beautifully translated story of the pursuit of court justice

Written by R.Shaper

Twelve Angry Men is a live theatre adaptation of the critically-acclaimed 1957 film. It does a wonderful job of recreating the original motion picture, which has been translated beautifully onto the stage. 

The use of transatlantic accents and costume pieces such as fedoras, suspenders, and ties lets us know immediately that we are dealing with a mid-century American story. The tale follows twelve men on a jury, deciding the fate of a sixteen-year-old boy accused of murdering his father. The entire story takes place in a single evening, in the jurors room of a courthouse. We see the twelve men sitting around the long wooden table, which begins facing the audience head-on, as we are made aware that all of the jurors but one (Juror Eight, played by Jason Merrells) are voting for a guilty verdict. The table slowly rotates throughout the performance, as Juror Eight attempts to convince his fellows that there is ‘reasonable doubt’ that the boy is indeed guilty. This artful way of depicting the passage of time, as well as the slow doubt creeping up on the jurors, is beautifully done, and carried out so subtly you don’t even notice the table is moving, mirroring how the jurors don’t even realise reasonable doubt is entering the room and their minds. The use of the spinning table allows the audience to experience every different angle of the cramped jurors room, as is done in the film with different camera angles and shots.

This artful way of depicting the passage of time … is beautifully done

Minimal music or sound effects are used in Twelve Angry Men, which allows us to truly experience all the awkward silences and stifling tension present in the jurors’ room. The backdrop outside the windows depicts a gloomy New York City at night. Pathetic fallacy is used artistically during the performance: the men comment on the heat within the room at times of tension and unease, and a thunderstorm reflects the heavy atmosphere and the weight of the jurors’ decision.

There is some great acting in this production. Merrells, as the lead, skilfully depicts the calm, rational, and courageous Juror Eight, who is willing to stand up to eleven of his peers to defend a boy and argue for justice. The other actors, including Tristan Gemmill (playing the stubborn Juror Three), also provide compelling performances. As time passes and tension rises among the men, their true natures are revealed to each other and the audience. The two older jurors remind us of the wisdom that comes with age, and also how the elderly are often overlooked and disregarded in society, as they are by other jurors in the court.

The names of the jurors are never revealed to us – we only know them by their juror numbers and through watching their characters unfold. This use of anonymity drives home a key message of the play – that anyone can be called to act on a jury and have to deliver the verdict on another person’s life. The class and racial divides of 1950s New York depicted in the performance reflects the wider social issues at the time the film was released, which still holds true in present society, and makes us look introspectively at our own prejudices. As juror eight says, ‘prejudices always obscures the truth,’ reinforcing the fundamental views driving this story.

Twelve Angry Men gives a spectacular rendition of a classic tale of courage

Twelve Angry Men gives a spectacular rendition of a classic tale of courage, heroism and the pursuit of justice in the face of adversity. Overall, this production is well worth seeing. 

Rating: 4.5/5

(Twelve Angry Men plays out the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 11th May.)

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