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In October 2013, I saw this play at Birmingham Rep, with Martin Shaw heading up the cast. After transferring to the West End, the show is now touring with Tom Conti in the lead role, although for a four week run, tv star Jason Merrells takes over from Conti, and it was Jason Merrells who I saw as Juror number 8, at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.

For anyone who doesn’t know, this play was written by Reginald Rose, and adapted into a superb and much-loved 1957 film, starring Henry Fonda. The whole play takes place in one setting and in real time – twelve jury members have to decide whether a young man is guilty of murdering his father. The case seems cut and dried, and eleven of the jurors initially have no doubt whatsoever that the defendant is indeed guilty. But juror number 8 – we never learn the actual names of any of the jurors – is not so sure. With the death penalty an absolute certainty in the event that the man is found guilty, he wants to make sure that they take time to make sure they are sending the best verdict they can.

The jurors, to me anyway, represent the best and worst in all of us – there are those who want to be reasonable, and firmly believe that there is valid evidence to suggest the defendant is guilty.  There is juror number 7, the baseball fan who only really cares about getting out of court in time to go to the game that evening, and of course, there is the angry juror number 3, whose anger at his failed relationship with his own son taints his view of the young man sitting in the dock.

The atmosphere is suitably claustrophobic – twelve relative strangers are stuck together in one room, on a hot day, with no working fan. Tempers flare, prejudices are revealed, and each character reveals more about himself than perhaps he would like.

I loved Jason Merrells as juror number 8 – he gave a commanding yet understated performance. Although the character is something of a hero, the beauty of the role is that in fact he is just a normal man who wants to do the right thing. Andrew Lancel was excellent as juror number 3 – angry, hurt and feeling like a failure, he resents his fellow juror who as far as he is concerned, is trying to put a murderer back on the streets.

However, it’s hard to just pick out particular members of the cast, because in truth, there was not a weak link to be seen. The dialogue was believable, and the tension seemed all too real. With all of the cast members being on stage throughout the whole show, and with just one setting, I really felt as though I was right there with them, and the revolving table around which the cast sat (which revolved so slowly that you simply could not see the movement, but which ensured that every cast member was clearly visible to the audience no matter where they were) was a brilliant idea. The audience at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre looked mesmerised and at times, you could have heard a pin drop.

Simply wonderful – if you get a chance, you should definitely see this wonderful production.

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Click here for my review of this production (2013)

Click here for my review of the 1957 film adaptation

Click here for my review of the 1997 film adaptation

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