“12 Angry Men,” by Reginald Rose, directed by Jarrad West. At the Queanbeyan Bicentennial Hall until November 24. Reviewed by Phillip Mackenzie.
|photo Janelle McMenamin|
FROM its inception on TV in 1954, Reginald Rose's TAM has by now entered the ranks of 'Classical American Theatre' and its revival by Everyman Theatre shows why it maintains its reputation.
Set in a claustrophobic jury room in high-summer New York, the play chronicles the deliberations of an all-male jury in the trial of a teenaged youth from an impoverished background charged with the murder of his brutal father. In a sense, he is the major character of the play who is never heard nor seen except through the perceptions of the individual jurors.
From the opening, it appears that this is an open-and-shut case and that the boy will be found guilty; the drama consists in whether this expectation will be borne out.
As written, each juror's character is clearly defined and is vividly brought to life by each actor – rarely might we expect the local theatre community to provide an ensemble of a dozen male actors of such even standard in the one production.
It would be invidious to select any of the actors for special commendation – all work seamlessly to create the shifting moods from reasoned consideration of the facts to fiery arguments and well-choreographed physical confrontations, revealing the biases and prejudices of personalities ranging from the urbane to the suburban; from the educated, prepared to suspend judgement, to the rough-neck demanding near-lynching, racist, level of justice. This range of attitudes fits just as well with our perceptions of current American culture as it did in 1954.
If the play has one flaw, it springs from the American dream that all is for the best in the best of all possible American worlds and that the correct solution will ultimately emerge from the turmoil.
The 'in the round' staging eliminates many issues of authentic stage design and is an innovative way of bringing the audience face-to-face with the conflicting attitudes of the characters – but it creates other problems in terms of blocking and the projection of voices – a number of audience members commented (if not complained) of being unable to hear much of the dialogue, to seeing too much of actors' backs; for me on the opposite side of the table, one passage, delivered entirely to one side of the audience, was completely lost.
The decision to run the performance without the usual intermission is a good one which ensures that the tension and momentum are maintained throughout. Costumes, lighting and sound effects effectively conjure up the fashions of the time and the oppressive heat of a New York summer in a confined space.
This is a production that will reward anyone who makes the trip across the border to the Bicentennial Hall.