Thursday, November 15, 2018

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose.  Everyman Theatre at Queanbeyan Bicentennial Centre, November 14 – 24, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Director – Jarrad West; Set Design – Martin Searles; Costume Design – Fiona Leach; Sound Design and Composition – Tim Hansen; Lighting – Eclipse Lighting, Benjamin Novak; Voice/Dialect Coach – Tony Turner

Considering this play is essentially a clear thinking exercise about what “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” means, as distinct from “not guilty”, and is therefore inevitably structured to go from 11 guilty / 1 not guilty to 12 not guilty, it needs a close-knit ensemble effort for the actors to create 12 distinctive characters of equal dramatic standing.

Everyman Theatre’s production of 12 Angry Men succeeds very well with excellent casting and strong detailed directing from Jarrad West. 

I was very pleased to see that, from the USA flags on the jury room table, to the accents and mannerisms, and I think the types of characters, the concept of the play was strictly American.  Though on stage it was first produced in Britain in 1964, the original teleplay for the CBS Studio One anthology television series was written in 1954. 

It was perhaps ironic, certainly for us as Canberrans and Queanbeyanites, that as we entered our jury room set up in the Queanbeyan Bicentennial Centre on Wednesday November 14 2018, so did a real jury retire to consider their verdict in the almost six-month long re-trial of David Harold Eastman, accused (and previously found guilty) of the murder of Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner, Colin Winchester, on January 10, 1989 – almost 30 years ago.

“Justice Murray Kellam concluded his directions in the final stage of the five-month trial on Wednesday, telling jurors the burden rests solely with the prosecution and it is not for Eastman to prove his innocence.”
 [ ]

A jury found him guilty in 1995, but in Australia we had abolished the death penalty long before, so he was sentenced to life imprisonment – enabling Eastman to continue to claim his innocence and for an inquiry to raise the question of the possibility of new evidence or miscarriage of justice in the original trial.

In America in 1954, and still in far too many States, the death penalty is still applied, at least for first degree murder.  Though Everyman Theatre could not have predicted what would occur on their opening night of 12 Angry Men, it has turned out an auspicious occasion.  After all, that’s what the play is really about – that the possibility of doubt about the prosecution’s case implies that a sixteen-year-old accused of killing his violent father could not, in conscience, be executed.

We do not know as I write on Thursday morning November 15 what the Eastman jury will decide.  But it will not lead to his execution, either way.

As to the production of the play, the setting in the round on the floor of the expansive Bicentennial Centre – rather than on the proscenium stage of The Q theatre – had its pro and con. 

The con of a rebounding acoustic quality in the barn-like space (from the back row, slightly higher than the rows between me and the jury room table, to give me a bit better sightline), meant that I heard every sound but couldn’t always distinguish every word.

But the pro of the atmosphere for a fly-on-the-wall experience won hands down.  Enough detail of the arguments over evidence came through, but you didn’t need to hear all the words of these angry men.  West’s direction concentrated on the emotions – from grotesque violence to embarrassed silences – combined with careful choreography of the twelve, like a dance work; resulting in an engrossing inescapable drama.

Though it is a play from that other world – the past – where things are done differently, setting it in its time and place allows us to reflect on the issues.  The legalistic arguments at this level (did the old man really hear the boy shout “I’m going to kill you”?; could the woman from the other side of the train track have actually seen what she said she saw without her glasses on?) may seem unlikely – yet there are questions about the evidence in the Eastman case quite like these (about the purchase of the gun, for example).

And whether today’s jury in Australia includes people with the kinds of prejudices which direct the behaviour of so many of these 12 men is certainly a matter of concern. 

Three issues arose in the play for mention as relevant today: the attack on the educated European migrant who speaks with a non-American accent (but actually speaks better English than his “ocker” equivalent attacker; the assumption that all lower socio-economic people are essentially dangerous; and the still very current belief by men that a woman’s evidence should not be trusted, simply because she is a woman!

I had wondered whether there was a need to put 12 Angry Men on again (it has a long history of performances in many forms).  Now I conclude that this production should not be missed.


Juror No 1 – Tony Turner              Juror No 2 – Will Huang
Juror No 3 – Rob de Fries              Juror No 4 – Martin Searles
Juror No 5 – Glenn Brighenti        Juror No 6 – Pat Gallagher
Juror No 7 – Alex Hoskison          Juror No 8 – Isaac Reilly
Juror No 9 – Geoffrey Borny        Juror No 10 – Colin Giles
Juror No 11 – Duncan Driver        Juror No 12 – Cole Hilder
Guard – Lucas Frank                     Judge (Voice Over) – Chris Baldock