It was good to see a packed house for tonight’s performance, particularly on a cold, rainy Monday. This 1954 play by Reginald Rose, made famous by the outstanding 1957 film adaptation starring Henry Fonda, obviously still retains its appeal. The added attraction is the presence of Tom Conti as the main protagonist, Juror No. 8. Conti may be getting on in years and a bit thicker round the waistline but he is still a major draw – the thinking woman’s crumpet if I can borrow the famous Joan Bakewell description.
For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, it revolves around a jury room where twelve men are deliberating a verdict in a murder trial. The evidence seems absolutely clear that a young man has killed his father and the inevitable Guilty verdict will lead to the electric chair. Eleven men are utterly convinced this is the case but one man, Juror No. 8 has seeds of doubt and proceeds to question and challenge the facts of the case and his fellow jurors. Rose wrote the play following his own experience of serving on the jury of a murder trial. It is very much a play of its time – nowadays there would be a much more gender and ethnically mixed jury and a potential juror with extremist views and prejudices would be eliminated at an early stage. Here we have an all white male jury all locked up in a stiflingly hot room and all desperately keen to get finished quickly. Add to the mix some volatile and downright unsavoury characters and it is no wonder that the tensions spill over into heated argument and aggression, hence the angry men of the title. The jury must produce a unanimous verdict and must be convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” of the guilt of the young man. The resultant debate and interaction between the diverse characters and the dissection of the evidence is fascinating. Slowly the seeds of doubt are planted in their minds and each comes to a new understanding and revelation.
The ensemble acting is excellent – there is a lot of quick-fire dialogue and the timing has to be spot on. Conti’s performance is quiet and understated, all the better to contrast with the other characters – the loudmouth who just wants to get to the ballgame, the racist, the embittered father. The American accents and characterisation are on the whole consistent and believable and you can really feel yourself caught up in the intense heat and power of the story. There is a fascinating revolving table around which the jurors sit – despite trying to keep an eye on it you do not actually see it move but the next time you notice it is at a completely different angle. Other than that, there are no special effects or props – it is just gripping drama and some darn good acting.
All in all, this is an entertaining evening of theatre. If you want a ticket, it looks like you will have to act fast based on the numbers for the first night but it will be worth it.