“Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose
at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
“The most important thing to write about, for me, is injustice,” said Reginald Rose, the author of “Twelve Angry Men”. which he wrote as a screenplay in 1954 after doing jury service himself. It was also produced as a highly successful movie directed by Sidney Lumet in 1965.
The excellent theatre production directed by Christopher Haydon at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre this week is as relevant today as when it was written. The impressive cast is headed by Tom Conti and Andrew Lancel,
Like the men locked together into the sweaty jurors’ room in Rose’s play, the audience is at first presented with an apparently unassailable case for a vote to send a young man to the electric chair. All the jurors are white; the defendant is not, a situation that was common in mid-20th century America, according to John Good’s article in the informative programme.
A unanimous vote is needed if the jurors are to be released from this claustrophobic room. Eleven of the jurors opt immediately for “Guilty”. Only Juror 8 (Tom Conti) enters the room with doubts that won’t allow him to make a hasty decision on the evidence they have heard in the courtroom.
When Juror 8 insists on discussion, emotions begin to rise. “Look at the time!” shouts Juror 7, in fear of missing the big ball game. Others condemn out of ethnic and class prejudices; several are afraid of losing income. The human life that will be saved or lost by the jury’s decision is forgotten, except by the one man who takes the phrase “without reasonable doubt” seriously.
We become intimate with each man’s psyche, personality and social prejudices as Juror 8 begins to unpick the details of the “facts” that have been presented to them in the courtroom. “Facts are coloured by the personalities that present them!” exclaims one of the jurors in a moment of revelation.
Tom Conti plays Juror 8 quietly, punctuating persuasive logic with telling moments of drama, anger and humour. His main opponent, Juror 3 (Andrew Lancel) gives an impassioned, powerful performance, and every character in this strong cast pulls his full weight.
The audience emerges, like the jurors from their ordeal, richer for having witnessed Rose’s study of a cross-section of American society and the intense self-examination of motives, perceptions and prejudices that serving on a criminal court jury should entail to help secure justice.
© Janice Windle
10th March 2015