Reginald Rose’s story of Twelve Angry Men is a story of ignorance and prejudice being overcome by courage and conviction. It is a story that challenges our assumptions and delves deep into issues of social justice. The year is 1954. It is summer in New York. It is the juror’s room, where twelve men are to come to a unanimous vote on a man’s life: innocent or guilty?
In the beginning, there is a near unanimous vote with the single exception of juror no.8 who urges the jury to consider an alternative, to question their conclusions. However, Richard Drysdale’s performance in this role seemed tired. To be fair though, most of the men delivered a rather uninspired performance.
With the exception of juror no.3, 9 and 11(Enrico Babic, Tim Hunter, Darrell Hoffman) who all had impassioned and present performances, whenever a juror spoke it lacked impulse; it lacked motivation. It was as though each individual was waiting for their time to speak – anticipating it – rather than reacting to someone else’ argument. For this reason, I think this production is better titled Twelve Slightly Agitated Men. They were overheated and tired, but not passionate about their points of view.
So the characterisation seemed unanimous: they all seemed disgruntled. But that was about the only thing they all agreed on. We had accents from Sydney to San Antonio and suits from the 40s to today. Either/or would have been fine – it would be interesting to see a contemporary Australian adaptation of this play – but if your sole intention is to recreate the film, then you are going to encounter some problems. Especially, when not all of the cast can maintain an American accent.
These discrepancies were not only jarring in terms of cohesion, but it also meant the argument existed in a disputed time and place, which ultimately undermined the fundamental tension in the script. It felt unsettled for the wrong reasons.
Set designer George Cartledge went for a traditional approach, which was comfortable and familiar. However, the angle of the table lost half the jury’s faces, and seemed to be on the diagonal to “create interest”. It complicated the set and, had it been perpendicular to the audience, it would have visually supported the polarization suggested in the script.
Moreover, although in theatre you don’t have the luxury of different camera angles and close ups, one has to trust that the writing will speak for itself in this regard. The different points of view, the different arguments will suffice. They will create interest. Director Tonya Grelis seemed to be under the presumption that the piece sits down when you sit down, which in itself is a valid idea, but is to be taken with a grain of salt in a play that is performed around a table. Although some movement is granted, even indicated in the script, too much can be distracting and seems unnecessary.
Ultimately, the production felt like it papier mached the play. It seemed to be tapping on the shell of Rose’s writing, but never really pierced through to the core. It didn’t discover the catalyst for each line, the moments of impact that lead to each argument, the source of prejudice within each individual.