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Bill Kenwright Ltd are currently producing the UK tour of Twelve Angry Men, following a record-breaking run in the West End. Based on Reginald Rose’s 1954 teleplay of the same name which inspired an Academy Award-nominated film, the production centres on a group of jurors that are deliberating on a murder case in New York. A 16-year old faces the death penalty for supposedly killing his father and initially eleven out of the twelve jury members perceive the young man to be guilty. The brave Juror 8 (Jason Merrells) has the courage to speak up and share his doubts on the case, inspiring just over 2 hours of enigmatic theatre. Packed full of enticing dialogue and tension, the courtroom drama is based at The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury this week and I had the opportunity to review the production.
The power of this play is in its dialogue, drawing you in from Juror 8’s first declaration of not guilty. Suspension builds subtly, as the case unravels and perceptions are challenged. The writing is clever, touching on themes of prejudice and class through the accusatory conversations in the room. Every discussion has an impact on the jurors’ points of views, so much so that with a blink of an eye, you might miss a detail that drives the decision making. For such a tense drama, I was impressed by the amount of humour and humility amongst the anger. It is interwoven throughout the script, as the jurors test theories and explore the theme of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
Utilising a static set, designer Michael Pavelka has created a deliberation room that reflects the time period of the piece, with the main table rotating at key moments as the jury review the evidence. The play is set on a very humid evening, with storms building in parallel with the tension of the show. The use of open windows and the inclusion of the washing area helps visualise the heated conditions, acting as a metaphor for the growing anger in the room. When the storm breaks and the rain starts coming down, it helps illustrate the breakdown of the conversations, as the jurors review their options.
Scalability to a large venue
My sole criticism of the production would be around the projection of the intimate play across a venue as large as the Marlowe. I found myself quite literally sitting on the edge of my stalls seat, focusing on the drama of the heated exchanges. The set itself isn’t small, but the proximity of the interactions means that without sufficient amplification, you may struggle to hear some of the spoken words from the upper levels of the theatre. I’d recommend sitting close to the front if you are able to, as you’ll find it easier to absorb this complex production and pick up on the links between the characters.
Exceptional cast performances
Led by the very talented Jason Merrells, the cast performances are the highlight of the show for me. Featuring a 13-strong company that excels both individually and as a group, Christopher Haydon’s cohesive direction has enabled the cast to bring depth and breadth to their characters.
Tristan Gemmill offers a commendable performance as the largely unlikeable Juror 3, making you question his intentions from the very start. Paul Beech is also endearing as the good-natured Juror 9, bringing a real sense of wisdom to his character. A special mention goes to Owen Oldroyd for covering the role of Juror 4 at the press night performance. I was very impressed by his measured performance style, bringing a sense of calm to the deliberation room.
A timeless drama
Twelve Angry Men is a striking piece of theatre that engages audiences through its powerful dialogue, reflective undertones and impressive cast performances. It has been classically staged, focusing on the talent of its company and strength of the original writing, proving that simplicity still works in 2024. The drama is playing at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 20th January, with last minute tickets available via the venue’s website. I would thoroughly recommend the production.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket for Twelve Angry Men was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.