A Heavy Burden: Review of Epicentre Theatre Company’s 12 Angry Men
Written originally for television, Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men translates well to stage. Set exclusively in a jury room, the play charts the deliberation of twelve men who attempt to reach a verdict on a murder trial. At first the case seems pretty open and shut, all the evidence seems to point towards the boy’s guilt. Of the twelve, eleven are convinced, but one isn’t so sure. His doubt comes to the frustration of the rest, all of whom are eager to get out of there and back to their lives. But as they slowly go over the facts of the case it becomes apparent that there are more than a few causes for doubt.
This is a masterfully rendered script, which on one level makes for a fascinating character study. With no other scenes and little plot aside from the details of the murder, Rose has been able to craft twelve believable roles, surely a testament to his talent. The play explores a range of themes close to the American heart, particularly that of class struggle, all tightly compacted within a tiny room. A nice examination of persuasion is also presented, particularly the way in which a logical argument and reason can be used to bring other people around to your position. Most importantly however, the play is built on the ideals of the legal system – here we see the importance (and burden) of a trial by jury. Rose reminds us that sitting on a jury, especially one of this nature, could be the most significant thing that a person ever does. The fate of a person rests entirely in your hands. It’s a heavy responsibility, the gravity of which we sometimes need reminding of.
A piece such as Twelve Angry Men is particularly revealing of how age can provide a natural advantage on stage. Phil Lye as Juror 1 possessed a relaxed and authoritative nature that was refreshing to watch. Both Lye and Tim Hunter, as Juror 9, had wonderful voices for stage, both bringing out the richness of the American rumble without overdoing it. Darrell Hoffman as the more foreign Juror 11 also proved the rule, and the trio sat comfortably within the world of the play. Accents were less fluid amongst the younger cast members, particularly Luke Reeves as Juror 7 and Alex Cubis as Juror 12, though arguably theirs was harder to pull off. ‘Accent’ was also a problem for Enrico Babic as Juror 3 – it was often too thick and this ultimately affected his final, otherwise movingly performed, monologue. This is all easily fixed if all three actors pare it back so that it only breaks through on certain areas of emphasis.
Richard Drysdale as Juror 8, the lone ranger of sorts, does an admirable job of pacing the play and carrying much of the dramatic weight. He is required to bounce off most of the cast and he does so with generosity and grace. Juror 4, as played by Scott Clare, was compelling to watch and arguably one of the more refined characterisations of the evening. This could also be said of Brett Joachim as Juror 2. Honourable mention must go to ensemble members Ben Scales as Juror 5, John Goodsell as Juror 6 and James Graham as the Court Guard as well as Tony Bates as Juror 10 (though we would like to have seen even more bigoted passion from his final speech). To be sure, despite tiny opening night stumbles, the entire cast does a stellar job. These are twelve angry, angry men.
There are some minor staging problems. It’s always going to be difficult to get twelve actors gathered around a table. Even so, one does feel that it could have been managed so that we got a little less of the actors’ backs, especially of those who have lengthy periods of dialogue. Further, some of the play’s moments of revelation could have been better staged for impact, but the overall drawback of these points was minimal.
This may not be a perfect production, but for the most part the cast is sound, and the script can’t be faulted. If you have never seen this play now would be a great opportunity to get along, because it is well worth the trip.
Twelve Angry Men is playing at the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood until 8th of November. For more information see: http://www.epicentretheatre.org.au/