Theatre review: Twelve Angry Men at the Everyman, Cheltenham
- Credit: Archant
When Katie Jarvis became double-booked for a play review, her son – 19-year-old Miles – stepped into the breach
I have to say, when I was informed I was going to see Twelve Angry Men at the Everyman and write a review, two days in advance, I was somewhat taken aback (rather as the characters in the play must have been when they were called to jury service).
My mother (the ‘famous’ Katie Jarvis. Ha!) had been double-booked and so the responsibility fell on me. If you had asked me beforehand what I knew about the play, I would have been able to tell you squat. Hell, I didn’t even know that ‘twelve men’ was a synonym for a jury.
Having made it to the theatre in one piece (and without ending up smelling like overripe cheese, which is an occupational hazard when refuelling my dad’s new LPG car), I had no expectations, nor any idea of what was going to happen. And, boy, I was pleasantly surprised.
The story starts with what should be an open-and-shut case: a father has been murdered by his 16-year-old son who faces the electric chair. Unfortunately for the less patient among them, Tom Conti (who plays a fantastic ‘Juror 8’) soon reveals that, in his mind, something just doesn’t sit right. Which is summed up perfectly in the original movie’s catch-line ‘Life is in their hands – death is on their mind’. He makes himself comfortable, takes off his tie and unbuttons his shirt, to symbolise to the other jury members that they’re in it for the long-haul.
The play itself, written by Reginald Rose, is based on a real-life court case for which he was a juror. Although the charge in question was manslaughter, rather than murder, Rose found himself in a heated eight-hour debate, which gave him the brainwave to write his script. In play-form, he set out to explore how each character’s individual experience, flaws and prejudices could colour an otherwise ‘fair’ system.
Speaking like a silver-tongued lawyer, Conti’s character holds his ground against ridicule, as the rest of the performance plays out like a cross between To Kill a Mockingbird and An Inspector Calls, intermixed with a good tongue-in-cheek sense of humour to keep everyone entertained. The downside of combining the poignant with the comedy-pathos is that the audience was sent, somewhat inappropriately at times, into cackles of laughter. There were moments when Twelve Angry Men (and the permanently bemused court officer) were whittled down into something more reminiscent of Two and a Half Men, Charlie Sheen’s hit comedy. In other words, what should have been a hard-hitting performance was occasionally lost to dodgy American accents (I had reasonable doubt) and more trips to the on-stage water-cooler than an undiagnosed diabetic.
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In fact, accents were the weakest part of the evening. Some of the more minor characters’ constant struggles to keep yokel meant they could not stay vocal: they failed to project, and some mumbling ensued. The atmosphere was nevertheless conjured up by the fantastic set and costume-design that brought the 1950s bursting into life.
That being said, the moral of the story is still very much relevant today. A thought-provoking play: I would definitely say it was worth an evening out.
• The Everyman Theatre is at Regent Street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1HQ, box office 01242 572573; www.everymantheatre.org.uk