by Reginald Rose
Andrew's Lane Theatre, Dublin
Reginald Rose's famous script is probably best known in its film format. The 1957 release of '12 Angry Men' prompted a spate of Oscar nominations and Rose subsequently adapted it for the stage in 1964. Despite the film's impact, its full bearing is best experienced in the theatre where the audience has no escape from the tense deliberations.
The main plot is straightforward – 12 jurors retire to a room to deliberate in a murder case. A 17-year-old Puerto Rican is charged with knifing his father to death and the jury must find him guilty beyond reasonable doubt, or acquit him. An initial vote reveals an 11 to 1 guilty verdict but the seemingly open and shut case soon transposes into dramatic debate. Each man is pushed to challenge his own prejudices and assumptions to ensure justice triumphs over discrimination.
Director Terry Byrne fuses filmic elements with theatrical aesthetics in this powerful production. The conflict between the jurors is gripping as they deliberate the facts and the pervading intolerance is slowly broken down. Peter Vollebregt is the voice of reason juror. Dissenting with the guilty verdict, he argues for the accused on reasonable doubt grounds. Juror 2 (played by an excellent Joe Hanley) is a gruff man grappling with the estrangement of his own son. Juror 10 is a bigoted misanthrope whose racism occludes his ability to make a fair decision.
Set on a balmy New York evening, the heat and claustrophobia are brilliantly captured. The set is authentic 1950s, the accents a confluence of Brooklyn, Queens and second-generation American. Despite the confined setting of one room and the continuous action (the second half picks up where the first ends), the play never loses our interest. Much more than a one-dimensional court-room drama, it combines a riveting story with slick observation of the American psyche, subtly exposes aspects of 1950s morality without obviousness. Terry Byrne's excellent production is a demanding performance for cast and audience alike, but is ultimately a rewarding experience.
Opens at Andrews Lane Theatre, Dublin on Tues, 6 November 2001.