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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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This performance of the play which was adapted into the (wonderful) 1957 film starring Henry Fonda, features Martin Shaw in the role of Juror number 8, who must convince his fellow jurors that there is reasonable doubt in the case of a young man accused of murdering his father.  The rest of the cast of this production which I saw at the wonderful Birmingham Rep Theatre, includes Robert Vaughn as juror 9, Jeff Fahey as the bullying juror 3, Nick Moran as juror 7, who only wants to get the case finished with so that he can go to a baseball match, and Edward Franklin as juror 5.

I thought the play was wonderful, and judging by the enthusiastic response and standing ovation from the audience, so did everybody else.  Shaw was excellent as the only juror to initially believe that the defendant may not be guilty, and I also loved Robert Vaughn as the sensible and intelligent fellow juror who is the first to agree.  Jeff Fahey was ideally cast as juror number 3 – an unsympathetic character, who is projecting his own unhappiness at his failed relationship with his son, onto the young man sitting in the dock.

With a small cast of 13 (twelve jurors and a guard), all of whom were on stage the whole time, and with just one setting, the atmosphere was suitably claustrophobic, as tensions run high amongst the men who just can’t seem to reach a verdict with which they all agree.  The staging was very clever, with the table around which the jurors sit – for the most part, when they are not pacing the room or staring out of the window – slowly revolves, so that no character is ever really out of clear view of the audience.

The whole cast were wonderful, it did seem like a natural conversation rather than scripted lines.  It was completely absorbing and the audience seemed captivated throughout – I most certainly was!

Whether you have seen this play before, are a fan of the film, or just like excellent drama performed by a top-notch cast, this play is definitely worth seeing.  It will shortly be playing in London, and I highly recommend it.

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Click here for my review of the 1957 film.

Click here for my review of the 1997 film.

Click here for my review of the 2015 production.

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Having watched the version of this film starring Henry Fonda – which I very much enjoyed – I wanted to watch this 1997 remake for comparison purposes.  Here. Jack Lemmon plays juror number 8, and as an always reliable actor, he plays the part well.

Much of the script remains unchanged from the 1957 film, and there are no changes whatsoever in the storyline itself.  There are a few added lines (and I was particularly sad to see that one scene had been cut out, albeit that that scene added little to the storyline itself, but I found it poignant in the 1957 film, nonetheless).

However, I do prefer the original film.  Fonda really made the role his own, and while Lemmon is an equally talented actor, I preferred the supporting cast in the first movie.  Lee J. Cobb, who played juror number 3 – the one most determined to find the defendant guilty at any and all cost – inhabited the part better than George C. Scott did in the 1997 film.  The same goes for most of the other characters too – except for two.  Mykelti Williamson (juror number 10) and Ossie Davis (juror number 1) were both excellent here, and Williamson in particular lit up the screen with his sheer presence.  His performance was superb.

As the story was brought up to date, the jury was multi racial; of course in reality there would almost certainly have been women on the jury as well, but as screenwriter Reginald Rose (who wrote the original script for the play which was adapted for the original film) pointed out – to have included women, the title would have had to have been changed to 12 Angry Persons, which wouldn’t have been as effective.

Some remakes are awful.  This one really isn’t, and in fact taken on its own merits it is a film well worth watching; however, I would strongly recommend watching the 1957 film as well – although I watched both within a few days, I certainly didn’t feel bored with either version.

Year of release: 1997

Director: William Friedkin

Writer: Reginald Rose

Main cast: Jack Lemmon, Mykelti Williamson, Courtney B. Vance, George C. Scott, Tony Danza, Ossie Davis, Hume Cronyn

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Click here for my review of 12 Angry Men (1957)

Click here for my review of the 2013 stage adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

Click here for my review of the 2015 stage adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.

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A jury has to decide whether a young Hispanic man is guilty of murdering his father – a crime for which, if convicted, he will be executed.  When they first enter the jury room, eleven of them are convinced he is guilty.  Only juror number 8 (Henry Fonda) thinks that the truth might not be as clear cut as it seemed in court, and tries to persuade his fellow jurors to think again.

This film is regarded as a classic, and it’s not hard to see why.  There were many things about it which I particularly liked – the fact that the vast majority of it is set in only one room, with just 12 people;  that there are no special effects or clever camera tricks – just great acting and a great script; that all of the characters are distinct, believable and portrayed by a terrific cast.  There’s not a weak link among the actors, but Joseph Sweeney, Lee J Cobb and Ed Begley get a special mention for their parts.

Henry Fonda is superb in the role of the dissenting juror.  The other jury members have their own reasons for believing the defendant to be guilty.  Some of them have considered the evidence and truly believe that he killed his father, some of them have allowed their own prejudices to dictate what they believe, one of them just wants to get out in time to go to a ball game that night.  And one man tells them that when a man’s life is at stake, they should perhaps at least give the matter some thought.

The small cast and single room setting (bar literally a few minutes of the film at the beginning and end that are not set in the room) make for a claustrophobic setting – add to the fact that it is one of the hottest days of the year and everything is getting sweaty and irritable – and (like Rear Window which I watched very recently) I felt that the viewer was placed in the room with the jury.

The best thing about the cast was that there were no really clear cut villains or heroes.  Yes, Fonda is probably classed as the hero of the piece, but he was just a normal man, a human being with his positive traits as well as his flaws.  And the same goes for the rest of the jurors.  Some of them display horrible characteristics, some of them are clearly very decent people, some of them are just unpleasant people…but they are all very ‘real’.  We all know people like all of these men.  I really liked the fact that – apart from two of the jurors – we never learn their names and only ever know them by their juror number.  We do learn in passing, what some of them do for a living as well as small details of their lives, but in general all that we know of these men is what we see of them in this room.

I love to see films like this – where special effects are eschewed in favour of great acting; where expensive scenery is not necessary, because you have a terrific taut storyline; where the enjoyment of the story lies in the journey, not the destination.  Henry Fonda regarded it as one of the three best movies he had ever made – and I can understand why. A real classic, which makes you want to punch the air in triumph – yes it looks a bit dated now, and yes a jury these days would not consist of just white males.  But the message in the film remains as relevant now as it was then.

If you like good drama, this film is definitely worth seeing.

Year of release: 1957

Director: Sidney Lumet

Writer: Reginald Rose

Main cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Joseph Sweeney

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Click here for my review of 12 Angry Men (1997)

Click here for my review of the 2013 stage adaptation of Twelve Angry Men at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

Click here for my review of the 2015 stage adaptation of Twelve Angry Men at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.

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