Twelve Angry Men

Derby Theatre


This is a much heralded revamp of a story which has endured both on stage and screen. You cannot beat a good courtroom drama. It is the best live straight play production I have seen on stage for many years.

Serendipitously, justice, and what it means, is back in the news with Mancunian Andy Malkinson’s wrongful rape conviction for which he served over twenty years, the Covid Enquiry, the Contaminated Blood Enquiry and the Postmasters Scandal. An audience whose default position may have been to accept is now more than ever ready to question.

The fundamentals of the Oscar-nominated 1957 film remain as compelling today as they were over half a century ago.

“A life in the balance. Twelve men. One verdict.”

Unfolding on a single set, a case which initially looks open and closed has its component parts peeled back, onion like, to reveal what is underneath- complacency, indolence, prejudice, assumptions, bigotry and differing life lessons. But there is no place to hide physically, morally, or intellectually, as the temperature and stakes rise while the table turns, literally. Very quickly it becomes apparent that it is not just the unseen defendant who is on trial, but each one of the jurors too.


Clever lighting effects mark the passage of time. The stage design is simple, though effective. One room with a twelve-seater table in the centre which slowly revolves as the narrative progresses. It does a full 180 during the first half, the table literally turning as the story unfolds and the plot slowly thickens. This continues in the second, equally gripping half, the long, hot day turning to dusk, lightning striking the city overhead.

An unusually strong cast, under the direction of Christopher Haydon in a production brought fresh from the West End on tour by Bill Kenwright Ltd, is studded with television staples. Casualty and Emmerdale star Jason Merrells takes the Henry Fonda role of Juror 8, ably supported by an ensemble cast including Gray O’Brien (Coronation Street, Peak Practice), Tristan Gemmill (Coronation Street, Casualty), Michael Greco (EastEnders), Ben Nealon (Soldier Soldier) and Gary Webster (Minder, Family Affairs).

Character actors Paul Beech, Samarge Hamilton, Jeffrey Harmer, Mark Heenehan, Kenneth Jay, Paul Lavers and Owen Oldroyd complete the gifted cast as the concept of reasonable doubt and what and should not be accepted as a fact are explored

The play is beautifully staged with set design by Michael Pavelka, Chris Haydon’s direction demands constant movement in what could easily have become a static production, writer Reginald Rose* packs both a cerebral and visceral punch into a literate script. The warm and prolonged curtain call was richly deserved from a full Tuesday house.

This scintillating production runs until Saturday and continues on nationwide tour

Gary Longden


*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 at Malvern Theatres, 4 - 9 March, 2024; Lichfield Garrick 8-13 April, 2024; and Wolverhampton Grand  6-11 May, 2024. 

Index page Derby Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre