'Twelve Angry Men' is now touring with a new cast including Tom Conti. This review is of the show's West End run.
Stage adaptations of major films are breeding like rabbits in the West End: in part, no doubt, because producers reckon that recession-era audiences are more likely to part with their cash to see something familiar. Some of these productions − I’m looking at you, ‘The Bodyguard’ − feel like little more than lifeless frame-by-frame recreations of the original film: theatre karaoke, if you will.
That is not the case with this excellent adaptation, directed by Gate chief Christopher Haydon, of Sydney Lumet’s 1957 film about twelve jurors deciding whether to deliver a young black man to the electric chair. Writer Reginald Rose based his screenplay − originally produced for television − on his own experience of jury service in New York in 1954. Rose’s decision to frame his fictional case around issues of race − the jurors are all white, and ugly opinions surface as they debate the Puerto Rican defendant’s fate − was explosive then, and still packs a punch. Juries today may be more mixed, but just one in 20 judges in the UK is non-white.
Lumet’s film excels in evoking feelings of intense claustrophobia: twelve men sparring in a locked room on a hot summer’s evening. To recreate this in a West End theatre is a challenge − it’s difficult to believe that the men are sweating and loosening their ties when the air conditioning is breezing icily over the stalls. Sightlines, too, are awkward, with much of the action taking place around a long table. Haydon and his designer Michael Pavelka have come up with the clever solution of placing the table on a revolve, but the action still feels a little static at times, and the audience is often faced with the backs of several actors’ heads.
Still the strength of the acting quickly supersedes such concerns. Martin Shaw is brilliantly restrained as Juror 8, the one man to insist on the importance of reasonable doubt; and Jeff Fahey is convincingly explosive as his nemesis, Juror 3. Nick Moran, of ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ fame, is also excellent as the spivvy marmalade salesman, Juror 7; but the whole ensemble deserves credit for ensuring that this production is every bit as thought-provoking and involving as Lumet’s film.