Photo: Jack Merriman

The fashion for taking a classic movie to the stage is still with us. It can go very well but equally it can go very wrong. On this occasion it has gone very well indeed, a fitting tribute to Bill Kenwright and his company and one that we have to hope will be a sure sign that his legacy will be continued.

This production has been beautifully staged, a fine set and excellent costumes by Michael Pavelka, a soundscape that works by Andy Graham and it is gently lit by Chris Davey… they all create the right atmosphere for a tense courtroom procedural drama set in the locked jury room on a hot and oppressive summers’ day. A young man is being tried for murder, his life hangs in the balance, in the hands of the twelve men of the jury. The setting is period, at the time women would not be called for jury service. The judge has dictated that a unanimous decision will be required and thus the play starts.

Photo:Jack Merriman

This a tense piece and one that requires a fine cast and fine playing and that is exactly what we get here. Twelve perfectly cast actors, actors of real quality and actors of appropriate age too. The balance of mature reason and hot headed anger has been finely honed by director Christopher Haydon, the tensions mount, tempers flare, arguments roar and then the mood dips as the assembled jurors consider and reconsider the case. Evidence is re-examined, testimonies challenged and decisions are made and changed.

Central to the story and the part played in the film by Henry Fonda, is Juror 8. Juror 8 is the voice of reason and of reasonable doubt. American TV legend Patrick Duffy plays the role with a calm and restrained hand, in fact he makes you realise that there are only eleven angry men in that room, or at least at the start. This casting is not only good because his performance is so good but also in terms of marketing and ticket sales, Duffy will put bums on seats. His quiet and almost reserved performance is sharply contrasted by the raw anger displayed by Tristan Gemmill and if there is to be any criticism there are moments when Juror 8 is just a little lost in the sheer volume as tempers fray. By having Duffy deliver much of his part facing the back of the set at the start of the play we do get the sense that his is the quiet voice of reason. For me this works and gradually his presence and influence emerges, his reasoning is listened to and absorbed.

Considering that Duffy is one of only two Americans in the cast the accents are very convincing and the portrayals of different ethnic groups and class divides is handled with an assured touch, nothing overplayed.

It is certainly an ensemble piece and each member of the cast has their moment to shine and they all shine; Gray O’Brien, Michael Greco, Ben Nealon, Gary Webster, Paul Beech, Samarge Hamilton, Jeffrey Harmer, Mark Heenehan, Kenneth Jay, Paul Lavers, Owen Oldroyd, all listed here in the order given in the programme, are uniformly excellent.

Twelve Angry Men stands the test of time. The original TV screen version from 1954, taken to the screen in 1957 by Sydney Lumet, is as poignant and as relevant today as it was nearly sixty years ago.

Andrew Kay

20 November

Theatre Royal Brighton

Rating: ★★★★½

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