Review: 12 Angry Men and Who (Didn’t) Dunnit

Meely Doherty, Eleanor Shaw and Faye Askew review 12 Angry Men at the Grand Opera House York for SCENE.

(Image: Jack Merriman)

A stage adaptation of the 1957 film of the same title (which itself was adapted from a 1954 teleplay), the play follows the story of twelve New York jurors deliberating the conviction of a Latino teenager. His charge is the murder of his own father, and if found guilty, his sentence is death. Set in only one room, the audience sees neither the crime nor the criminal, and must follow along with the opinion of the jury, who all think he is guilty but one. There are witnesses to the crime, a murder weapon people saw him buy, and he has the motive. 

Underlying all of this is a prejudice that is reflective of the race and class relations of the 1950s. Only one juror, brave enough to speak out, reflects on whether or not the boy is guilty, as well as delving deeper into his troubled upbringing. Once this seed of doubt is planted, the remaining jury one by one begin to question if his execution is justified.

The jurors are interesting. The main defender of the not guilty verdict is an architect, for one. He builds the new case in favour of the defendant, pointing out shoddy witnesses and inconsistencies.

Whilst the play was conceptualised in the 50s, its themes are still pertinent today, as the majority of US inmates come from minority ethnic groups, and the ethics of capital punishment are still a topic of heavy debate. As the jurors are slowly convinced (and unconvinced) of the defendant’s guilt, hours pass filled with fights, stoicism, and debates about the role of nature versus nurture.

(Image: Jack Merriman)

What really underpins this production of 12 Angry Men however, is the staging and movement of the characters. Central to the room is a turning table at which the twelve men sit, and a bathroom which connects to the main room and serves as a retreat for the characters’ deeper thoughts. The table turns based on the number of jurors in favour of guilty vs not guilty throughout the play, and does so at a speed at which you might not even notice it happening.

The acting brings it all together, from the deadpan and extremely logical stockbroker to the democracy-loving European watchmaker. While some deliveries weren’t as strong as they could have been, especially around the monologues – and occasionally the accents were a little more York than New York –  the actors did an excellent job of conveying the deep pain and frustration of the jurors throughout the play.

An intelligently crafted play based on a beloved film, this production is a must see for fans of psychological thrillers, dramas, and mysteries alike.

Nothing has ever made me more nervous about being summoned, but you should summon yourself to the Grand Opera House and take a look!

Twelve Angry Men is playing at the Grand Opera House York until Saturday the 18th of May.

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