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  • Chris O'Rourke

Twelve Angry Men

Twelve Angry Men. Image by Jack Merriman


It's not that woman weren’t allowed sit on juries in the 1950s when Reginald Rose wrote his teleplay (1954), then screenplay (1957), later adapted into a play (1964) from his classic film Twelve Angry Men. Women had been active on juries since the 1920s. It’s more that it was considered unseemly at the time for women to be around unruly men. Arguing, swearing, squaring off, name-calling, insulting and threatening each other which Rose was determined not to soften. Passions rising in a swelteringly hot, locked room where a jury have been sequestered. There to decide the fate of a young man facing the death penalty for murdering his father. The jury his last hope in a flawed legal system. A jury of self-righteous, self-centred, bigoted and prejudiced men in a hurry to be done with it. Men who've already decided this is an open and shut case and are almost unanimous about the accused’s guilt. All except juror Number Eight who believes there’s grounds for reasonable doubt. Ding ding, seconds away, and it’s round one as the jury vote comes back 11 to 1. Their decision needing to be unanimous. Their deliberations making for battle of hearts and minds as juror Number Eight gets them reviewing the evidence.

Twelve Angry Men. Image by Jack Merriman

Under Christopher Haydon’s compositionally brilliant direction Twelve Angry Men is steeped in the stylings of classic American acting. Actor Studio, Mamet styled characters driven by a Hollywood American idealism passed off as realism. The kind Eliza Kazan popularised before plummeting from grace. Which owes much to Frank Capra and his plucky everyman standing up for the downtrodden underdog. Wrestling a flawed legal system from the grip of apathy and prejudice so it does the right thing. The backbone of Rose’s script its idealism rather than the trial, whose circumstantial evidence doesn't bear up under close scrutiny. Actors Jason Merrells, Gray O’Brien, Tristan Gemmill, Michael Greco, Ben Nealon, Gary Webster, Paul Beech, Samarge Hamilton, Jeffrey Harmer, Mark Heenehan, Kenneth Jay, Paul Lavers and Owen Oldroyd turning in exquisite performances built around signature details and pitch perfect pacing. To try single out one from this dynamic ensemble would be grossly unfair given that it functions as a wonderfully constructed unit. Haydon’s impeccable direction establishing nuance, mood and suspense through tones and physical gestures, even if some border on exaggeration. Lighting by Chris Davey, sound by Andy Graham and design by Michael Pavelka a love letter to old movie film sets, beautifully underscoring the texture, temperature and tone of the times.

Twelve Angry Men. Image by Jack Merriman

If some accents can grate, sounding like over the top, New Yawk, Bowery Boy cab drivers, you come to forgive this given the power, balance and pacing of performances. This might be old school, the story aged a little, its gender values wildly outdated, but its sentiment that we should fight to see past our prejudices, especially when lives are at stake, resonates strongly. Staging, lights and set might be the kind Gary Grant and Rosalind Russell would have been happy to fall in love in, but they're part of its considerable charm. Along with an almost innocent sincerity impossible not to enjoy, given life by a terrific ensemble. No, it's not an updated version for a modern, gender conscious audience, but it succeeds brilliantly on the terms it sets out for itself. Making for a cracking production of one of the all-time great courtroom dramas.

Twelve Angry Men by Reginal Rose, presented by Bill Kenwright Ltd, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until April 20.

For more information visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre


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