Review: Twelve Angry Men

Tom Conti in Twelve Angry Men. Pic: Comp
Tom Conti in Twelve Angry Men. Pic: Comp
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PREJUDICE, fear of knowledge, and the power of critical thinking are all played out in this highly entertaining jury-room romp based on the 1954 screenplay, which became the famous Henry Fonda movie.

* * * * *

King’s Theatre

Along with the right to bear arms and freedom of expression, the right to trial by jury lies at the heart of the American ideal and, like so much of Hollywood up till the 1960s, Twelve Angry Men became part of the canon of work which underpinned how Americans viewed and defined themselves.

So a romp? At times this Birmingham Rep production felt that way, when there was laughter a-plenty in what is supposed to be a sweat-soaked drama of life and death, played out against a background of preconceptions and blind acceptance of officialdom.

Of course, real theatrical tension is virtually impossible when the vast majority, if not all, of the audience know the outcome, but even so they found moments of levity when the cast wasn’t necessarily playing it for laughs.

Tom Conti delivers a smooth performance in the lead role of the lone challenger who cajoles the others into returning a unanimous not guilty verdict, building in intensity from perhaps over-played brooding isolation at the start to powerfully-projected frustrated fury at the climax.

Pick of the other jurors, and of some dodgy American accents, was Denis Lill as the prejudiced garage-owner, who is uncomfortably believable as the closest thing 1950s New York would have had to a UKIP voter.

So too is Andrew Lancel a stand-out as the troubled last-angry-man-standing, whose portrayal of a father estranged from his son is the emotional high-point of the show.

And Sean Power is worth his place for the comedy value of his baseball-loving spiv.

If the story-line is familiar, some solid performances mean the show doesn’t breed contempt and it all canters along to the expected conclusion having delivered a good night’s entertainment.

And if, having seen this, you’re ever up on one, thank your lucky stars Scottish jurors (Fifteen Angry Men doesn’t have the same ring to it and would go on a bit) won’t get to know your previous convictions.

Run ends Saturday