cast in 12 AM 

Angry men in an 11-1 opening vote

Twelve Angry Men

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


When it comes to theatre at its very best, Twelve Angry Men is guilty as charged, a brilliantly tense, and completely convincing legal drama.

It’s almost 70 years since Reginald Rose’s courtroom drama flickered on to US TV screens in CBS’s Studio One series back in 1954*, and the atmosphere it creates is as electric now as it was then.

The plot is simple and dateless; a jury have retired to decide on what most of them have already decided is a slam dunk case. It’s a stifling afternoon, the broken ceiling fan is now merely decoration, and the windows open to the baking tempertures outside provide little relief. We can almost feel the oppressive heat.

The 16-year-old kid is guilty, everyone knows it, so take a vote, tell the judge and we can be home for supper . . .  except . . .

This is no minor charge, it’s murder, and the kid is facing the electric chair, so there is a life at stake, and, then there is the real barrier to an early exit for the 12 good men and true - juror 8 (Patrick Duffy) who is far from being beyond reasonable doubt.

The kid may be guilty, he accepts that, but has it been proved beyond reasonable doubt? We start 11-1 against the kid, with Juror 8 doing the job the court appointed defence lawyer should have done, questioning the evidence against the kid.

We learn the teenager is accused of stabbing his father to death. The kid was no angel, throwing rocks at teachers as a child and with a spell in reform school for stealing a car on his rap sheet – but did that automatically mean he killed his abusive, brutal father?


The 12 good men and true

While Juror 8 questions the evidence against the kid, finding possible holes, giving possible explanations, the search for justice only serves to expose the motives, prejudices and hang ups of the men deciding his fate.

Juror 7 (Michael Greco) is a marmalade salesman with tickets for that night’s big baseball game and you suspect his getting there, and on time, is far more important than the life of some kid from a slum.

Then we have Juror 10 (Gray O’Brien) who is a textbook example of prejudice and bigotry who provides a chilling speech about them, the poor, the underclass – the enemy in his good and bad world of us and them, with them out to destroy us. Guilt didn’t come into it. Executing the kid merely served to reduce one of their number. It was a brilliantly delivered and deeply disturbing speech with echoes of some of the prejudice we hear today.

Juror 5 (Samarge Hamilton) grew up in the slums, so could identify with the kid – and provide a vital insight only those familiar with switch blades would know, throwing doubt on the whole prosecution case.

Juror 12 (Ben Nealon) works for an ad agency and was a floating voter, seemingly for or against the kid depending on who spoke last while Juror 4 (Mark Heenehan) is the guilty side’s equivalent to Juror 8.

He dealt in facts and the evidence in the case and like Juror 8 was open to considering other possibilities, but instead of challenging the evidence he was more inclined to support it and dismiss alternatives.

Then we had the oldies, Jurors 9 (Pail Beech) and 11 (Kenneth Jay). Nine is the first to change his mind, deciding to give Juror 8 a chance to explore the evidence, while the naturalised American, East European Juror 11, has noticed more than the rest, details about the old man in the apartment beneath the scene of the murder and also about the woman who said she saw it from her bed through the boy’s window on the other side of the road – saw it through the carriages of a passing elevated train.

His observations challenged both their witness statements. Juror 2 (Paul Lavers) was the quiet one, perhaps feeling the responsibility, and excited at having a murder to try, but he was willing to listen, and it was his questioning of the angle the knife had been plunged in the chest of the murdered father that set another hare running.

Then there's he fair minded Juror 6 (Gary Webster) who starts off voting guilty but is not against listening to arguments that might persuade him otherwise.


Patrick Duffy as Juror 8

Keeping order, or at least trying to was the foreman (Owen Oldroyd) who was attempting to give everyone a chance to speak in the hopes of a unanimous verdict – majority verdicts not allowed in capital trials.

Then we had Juror 3 (Tristan Gemmill), who was angry enough for all 12. He confronted pretty well everyone in the jury room, killing his own arguments along the way after, for example, threatening to kill Juror 8, soon after claiming that as the kid had supposedly threatened to kill his father in an argument then he must have done it.

Gemmill’s final speech is explosive, a tirade of anger and accusations and we finally realise he is not trying this teenager at all, but is using him to punish another he sees as guilty of  a similar  crime . . . estranged sons and fathers.

Juror 3 has been an argumentative, leader of the guilty faction, shouting down any sign of doubt, yet for all his insults threats, and bluster we finally feel for him, the accused was his own guilt and his opposition is defeated by the crushing weight of his own past.

The play is about the wheels of justice being made to turn at the insistence of one man, not because he thinks the boy innocent, but he questions whether he has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the safeguard inherent in the concept of justice.

But it is also about both the strength and failings of the jury system, being tried by your peers ordinary people with all their ordinary fears, beliefs and biases, the odds stacked for or against an accused even before evidence is heard.

Patrick Duffy, of Dallas fame for older audience members, is the glue which holds the whole thing together. Softly spoken, slow and deliberate he never shouts or even argues. Every point of view is valid, as long as it is about the evidence and the evidence alone. His probing and simple questions shows indisputable fact was disputable after all. The solid case ,oght have been built on shaky foundations.

A trial is never black and white, guilt or innocence, there was always that grey area. The accused could be guilty, but does the evidence convince?

There is not a weak character, the clashes, arguments and frustrations have real anger and conflict about them, all beautifully acted on a set (Michael Pavelka) which has all the hallmarks of a 1950’s New York municipal courthouse. I’m no Prof Henry Higgins but the American accents sounded fine, as they should be of course for Duffy, and they were consistent, which is important. Kenneth Jay is Canadian, incidentally, but his North American heritage gave way to his East European character.

It’s 10 years since I first saw this as a Birmingham Rep-Bill Kenwright joint production, directed then as now by Christopher Haydon , at its premiere at the Rep, and it one of those productions that sticks in memory. It contains a moment of theatrical genius. Watch the table, that is the advice. It tells the story of the swinging opinions all on its own.

This is a quality production, with fine acting and stagecraft, and is one of the many legacies of the late Bill Kenwright.  The jury will be deliberating to 04-1-23. 

Roger Clarke


*Reginald Rose was a staff writer at CBS and wrote the original TV play after being on jury duty. That original can be seen here.   The Internet Archive

The trial continues in 2024 at Derby Theatre, 29 January–3 February 2024; Festival Theatre, Malvern, 4 March-9 March 2024; Lichfield Garrick, 8 April–13 April 2024 and The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, 6 May–11 May 2024

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