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Twelve Angry Men

Updated: Feb 29

Reginald Rose

Bill Kenwright Ltd

The Lowry, Salford

February 27-March 2, 2024: 2 hrs 20 mins

(also Blackpool Grand April 29-May 4; York Grand Opera House May 13-18)

Jason Merrells as Juror No. 8 in Twelve Angry Men. All pics: Jack Merriman
Jason Merrells as Juror No. 8 in Twelve Angry Men. All pics: Jack Merriman

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First written for television and then the stage, and since twice made into movies, Twelve Angry Men is a virtually classic text today, showing the deliberations inside a jury room at the close of a murder trial. Though it seems at first to be an open-and-shut case, with only one juror willing to admit to doubt over the prosecution case, by the end... forgive the spoiler, but it ends differently.

Christopher Haydon’s production arrives at Salford's Lowry in the middle of a long tour, at an interesting time. Channel 4’s The Jury: Murder Trial has shown just this week what might really happen in jury rooms by reproducing a real-life case and filming the jurors’ discussions Big Brother style (with, as an extra twist, two “juries” delivering on the same case).

Twelve Angry Men was written in the 1950s and based on US experience – author Reginald Rose had served as a juror himself. They did things differently then: juries were normally all-male and had to bring in unanimous verdicts or instigate a retrial (as once here). Now, there can be majority verdicts, though a jury is supposed to spend a long time in discussion before being allowed to offer one. That provision is possibly an effect this work of fiction brought about; you can’t help wondering what would have happened if a majority verdict had been an option for the 12 in the play.

Then, there was little incentive for the prosecution in a criminal case to disclose things that might aid the defence. Today, here and in the US, it’s supposed to happen (though there is some doubt that it happens often enough). The story might have turned out differently in our time – or would it?

What doesn’t seem to have changed is the way juries deliberate: emotion, prejudice, personal hang-ups, treating the trial as a contest in which the lawyers are scored for their skills; unwillingness to be an odd one out, and simple inability to take in detail, are all part of the scenario. Henry Fonda is remembered for his role in the first film as Juror No 8 – a brave, strong-willed man against the rest.

In this cast it’s Jason Merrells who gets the hero’s halo, and he fills the part with modest toughness and equanimity. Tristan Gemmill plays No 3, his most emotional opponent: a difficult role to bring off and one he makes both convincing and rather scary at the same time.

Samarge Hamilton catches the uneasy status of No 5: in this version a lone black man, not just a young guy from a tough background; Kenneth Jay is appealing as No 11, the European emigre watchmaker who has more sense of justice than his US-born peers.

There’s a line-up of UK acting talent in the other jurors; this is an ensemble achievement if ever there was one. Christopher Haydon has each one distinctly portrayed, some even comically, and places them skilfully as clashing relationships and individual personalities move to the fore.

Michael Pavelka’s set is simple but evocative, and the illusion of the claustrophobic, hot, close evening in the jury room well contrived. The title’s a good one: they don’t all start angry, but all get that way sooner or later. All, bar one.

More info and tickets here


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