Tuesday, 16 November 2004
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose , Nov 16, 2004
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
Arts Projects Australia and Adrian Bohm
Athenaeum Theatre I, November 16 to 30, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 1, 2004
Justice and prejudice are thorny issues for contemporary Australia and Reginald Rose's play, Twelve Angry Men, although written in the 50s in America, taps into an emotional vein even forty years after its creation.
Guy Masterson He directs Rose's early version of the play that was first staged in London in 1964.
The script is based on the 1957 film version starring Henry Fonda and other luminaries. This followed an Emmy award winning original television play.
Masterson cast twelve excellent Australian actors and comedians to play the twelve men of the jury, including Marcus Graham in the Henry Fonda role.
The production transforms the stage of the Athenaeum into a stuffy, hot and claustrophobic New York jury room in 1957. The men are of the period, each with clearly defined and recognisable characteristics of 50s America.
The men sit on a jury to decide the fate of a 16 year old black boy who is accused of the knifing murder of his violent father.
When a single juror (Marcus Graham) votes Not Guilty, frustration and tempers flare and the temperature rises even further in the jury room.
The script is intelligent, politically sophisticated, socially challenging particularly for the 1950 in the USA. Rose's characters are impeccably observed, each slowly revealing his social values and inner secrets.
Putting twelve opinionated men of diverse class, education and background into a locked room together provokes a gladiatorial atmosphere.
Rose contrives a cunning narrative. Juror number eight (Graham) suggests that he cannot, in good conscience, send a boy to the electric chair without talking a little about it first.
By tiny increments, he unfolds his concerns about the weapon, the time of the murder, the reliability of witnesses' statements and the ineffective defence attorney. Almost imperceptibly, the picture of reasonable doubt is drawn and other jurors change their votes.
Graham is rivetting as the mild but persistent architect. His vocal and physical presence is, as always, compelling. As his opposing voice, the stitched up stock broker, Peter Phelps is delightfully cool and rational.
Henry Szeps as the older juror, is a still presence and Alex Menglet as the European matchmaker, is commanding while Aaron Blabey is hilarious as the voluble salesman and Richard Piper is convincing as the frighteningly racist juror ten.
Rob Meldrum, George Kapiniaris, Peter Flett, Nicholas Papademetriou, Shane Bourne and Russell Fletcher comprise the rest of a fine cast.
As Graham's character says, " Prejudice obscures the truth." Twelve Angry Men compels us to reconsider our own prejudices.
By Kate Herbert