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Released in 1957 and starring Henry Fonda, Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men is often described as the ultimate courtroom drama. Clive Stack delivers his verdict following the opening night of the stage adaptation at the Grand Theatre.

Originally written as a play for television back in 1954, with a one-set jury-room location, Twelve Angry Men’s potential for being adapted for the stage was quickly realised and it premiered in San Francisco in 1955. Seventy years on, it is still engaging and relevant to modern audiences. The latest reincarnation, now running at The Grand Theatre, was an acting masterclass and totally captivated the first night’s audience.  

 

The set design by Michael Pavelka was fabulous. It was simple yet very effective and successfully evoked the period in which the play is set. On seeing the layout of the twelve jurors’ chairs around a long oblong table, I was intrigued to see how director Christopher Haydon was going to use all the stage and avoid the actors masking each other. With constant trips to the water dispenser (the characters describe it as the hottest day of the year), to the windows for some fresh air, or some other credible reason for moving, the characters were rarely all seated at once. The director’s clever use of blocking, combined with a slowly revolving stage that turned the table 360 degrees in each act, transformed what could have been a rather static play to one that was full of action and movement.  

All twelve (thirteen if you include the courtroom guard) gave strong performances and were all completely convincing in their roles

There were excellent performances from Jason Merrells, the only juror to initially believe that the young man accused of murder is innocent; Tristan Gemmill, the antagonist in the play who, with his discriminatory beliefs, will not be convinced, however compelling the evidence, that the boy is anything other than guilty; and Michael Greco, the energetic jokester who is more interested in wrapping it all up so he can get to his baseball game. It wasn’t just the main characters, however, which made this production so compelling. All twelve (thirteen if you include the courtroom guard) gave strong performances and were all completely convincing in their roles.  

The pacing of the play was perfect, with just the right amount of pauses and silences, as well as moments of light relief when some appropriate comic elements were added. The costumes, also designed by Michael Pavelka, were not only spot on for the period but fitted each of the character’s personalities perfectly. I thought the lighting by Chris Davey was very well done, somehow conveying the hot, stuffy atmosphere of the jury room and then subtly getting darker before the thunderstorm. The cast fully deserved the standing ovation they received. The verdict from this audience member – everyone involved in this production are guilty of producing a piece of outstanding theatre. 

Twelve Angry Men is at the Grand Theatre until Saturday 4th May. Book here.

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