At the theatre: “Twelve Angry Men”

Last night, F and I had a rare night out when we went to see “Twelve Angry Men” at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End. This was possible thanks to a TimeOut London 50% off tickets deal, so we had great seats for half the price.

London's Garrick Theatre

London’s Garrick Theatre

“Twelve Angry Men” is essentially an exact replica of the 1957 Henry Fonda film of the same name. I had seen the movie back in school and only remembered bits and pieces of it. The play, written by Reginald Rose, was absorbing and very well done. It’s a closed-room drama — with surprising and pleasing comic moments — focusing on the 12 jurors on a murder case who have to decide whether or not they think a black teenager killed his father; the boy’s life is in their hands. The initial vote is 11-to-1 for “guilty” — Juror 8, played brilliantly by Tom Conti, has “reasonable doubt” about the boy’s guilt. On this glimmer of doubt hangs the entire drama: the jurors must now discuss and re-discuss the details of the case in order to reach a unanimous decision.

“Twelve Angry Men” brings up many fascinating issues and moral dilemmas still relevant in today’s world. There is the notion of innocent until proven guilty — as Juror 8 points out, all you need to have is “reasonable doubt” that someone is not guilty. There are personal prejudices and experiences influencing the feelings and decisions of a few jurors. Slowly by slowly the case is unwound and we, along with the jurors, realize that the supposed murder is a lot more complicated than it first seemed. In fact, there is plenty of room for “reasonable doubt,” as many of the jurors soon begin to understand.

Robert Vaughan is excellent and understated as Juror 9, the oldest man in the room who remains seated for almost the entire show. Jeff Fahey and William Gaminara strongly portray two of the loudest proponents of the boy’s guilt — will they ever admit to having “reasonable doubt”?

The show effectively employs its simple set: the designers could easily have just plopped a big table down in a room and let it stay there. However, this big table was on a slowly rotating platform. So slowly did it rotate that I never actually caught it in motion; every once in a while I would notice that the table had turned again. This effect showed the passage of time — when the foreman’s seat was back where it started, the jury’s decision was made. The restroom on stage right was also used well, for more intimate and often insightful conversations between pairs and trios of jurors.

Overall, I highly recommend that you go see “Twelve Angry Men” if you have the chance. It is sharp, smart, thought-provoking, and very well-acted — everything that you might want in good theatre.

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