Twelve Angry Men (touring) ★★★★

Twelve Angry Men, Reginald Rose’s classic courtroom drama, explores what it is to hold someone’s life in your hands

In 1954, Reginald Rose, a screenwriter known for tackling controversial social issues in his works, penned a script for a CBS anthology TV series. A year later, he adapted in for the stage. But it was the 1957 film adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumet, that made an indelible impression on the public consciousness.

Almost 70 years on, Bill Kenwright’s touring production has arrived on stage remarkably unchanged and as pertinent as ever. The cast of this revival leans heavily on familiar faces from TV soaps. The jurors, unnamed but numbered, include Jason Merrells (Declan Macey in Emmerdale), Tristan Gemmill (Robert Preston in Coronation Street), Michael Greco (Beppe Di Marco in EastEnders), Ben Nealon (DI Baxter in Doctors), Gary Webster (Gary Costello in Family Affairs) and Gray O’Brien (Tony Gordon in Coronation Street).

All images by Jack Merriman

The drama, set in a 1950s summer in New York, begins with a judge addressing the twelve men of the jury, reminding them the case they will deliberate on is one of murder, in the first degree. As this is the most serious offence, if the accused is found guilty, the death sentence of the electric chair will be mandatory.

As the twelve retreat to the jury room, the overwhelming heat on the hottest day of the year foreshadows the rising tempers that will accompany the heated debates to come. To begin with it seems an open and shut case: a 16-year old boy is accused of stabbing his abusive father in the chest. The elderly man in the apartment below testified that the boy shouted “I’m going to kill you” and then he heard a body hit the floor. A second witness, a woman whose bedroom looks across the line of the L-train into the victim’s home, attested that she looked through the window and saw the boy stab his father.

Accepting the prosecution case, the foreman calls for an early vote between the jurors – but the result surprises the room. While eleven vote for a guilty verdict, Juror 8 is a lone voice opting for not guilty. What follows, in discussing the details of the case and trying to reach a collective verdict, is a compelling drama that exposes the divisions and prejudices of the individual jurors. Youth versus age, levels of education, wealth and poverty, and even racial differences, all emerge as fault lines between the members of the jury. 

The brilliant narrative twists and turns of Twelve Angry Men remain as thrilling and gasp-inducing as they always were. The heroic compassion of Juror 8, played with gentle, compelling command by an impressive Jason Merrells, offers a timely portrait of one man standing courageously against the mob. 

While the script is the star, director Christopher Haydon makes sure that although the juror room feels claustrophobic, it is never cluttered despite the large cast. Whilst some of the American accents are “variable”, the ensemble generally convince as the shifting sands of debate begin to make them question their beliefs.  Michael Greco offers a charismatic and humorous Juror 7 whose racist outburst about the Middle European refugee juror takes you by surprise. Similarly, Juror 6 is played with nuance and quiet understatement by Gary Webster

While Juror 3 is meant to be frustrated, quick to anger and inflexible, frustratingly Tristan Gemmill‘s portrayal is cartoonish, relentlessly one-note and unforgivably shouty. Given that the part is such a pivotal role in the drama, when he finally completes his character arc, his over-insistent portrayal has already exhausted any empathy. 

This misjudgement aside, Twelve Angry Men remains a taut, compelling drama as well as a timely advocating of compassion and impartiality in the face of a prejudiced mob mentality. 

Reviewed at Richmond Theatre

Your jury duty will be well rewarded by this gripping production – ★★★★ 4 stars

Twelve Angry Men Tour

Twelve Angry Men will tour at:

5 – 10 Feb RICHMOND Richmond Theatre

12 – 17 Feb MILTON KEYNES Milton Keynes Theatre

20 –24 Feb  ABERDEEN His Majesty’s Theatre

27 Feb – 2 Mar SALFORD The Lowry

4 – 9 Mar MALVERN Festival Theatre

12 – 16 Mar GUILDFORD Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

25 – 30 Mar WINDSOR Theatre Royal Windsor

8 – 13 Apr LICHFIELD Lichfield Garrick

16 – 20 Apr DUBLIN Bord Gais Energy Theatre

22 – 27 Apr CAMBRIDGE Arts Theatre

29 Apr – 4 May BLACKPOOL Grand Theatre

6 – 11 May WOLVERHAMPTON Grand Theatre

13 – 18 May YORK Grand Opera House

Book Tickets