Reginald Rose’s 1954 teleplay has certainly had a long life, and its most recent incarnation is for the stage, now running in the West End following a successful UK tour.
There are four well-known names in the cast – Martin Shaw plays the role now most closely associated with Henry Fonda in the 1957 classic film (the protagonist and the only juror to initially vote ‘not guilty’); Robert Vaughn is the old man who doesn’t have much to say, but makes pithy comments which count; Jeff Fahey (an American actor known from ‘Lost’) is the antagonist, a man who has baggage from his broken relationship with his son to deal with – this was the role Lee J Cobb played in the film; and Nick Moran of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels fame is the baseball fan who has no real interest in justice and no thought-out opinion.
Balancing these heavyweights are eight lesser known actors – Martin Shaw’s son Luke, who plays the jury foreman, David Calvitto (the bank clerk who starts out quiet but finds he has something to say), Paul Antony-Barber (the rational voice), Ed Franklin (very good as the young man from the slums who remembers how to use a switchblade), Robert Blythe (the respectful decorator), Miles Richardson (the angry bigot), Martin Turner (the polite European watchmaker), and Owen O’Neil (the irritating ad executive). There’s a very tiny role as the security guard for Jason Riddington, who has little to do but who is the only other person we see other than the dozen men who have to pronounce their opinion on the guilt, or not, of the sixteen year old boy on trial for the murder of his father.
Those of us who know the play already expect no surprises, and indeed you can just sit back to see how well these twelve men play off each other. The set – one room, with the sink piping in the restroom visible, and real rain against the sash windows, may not feel as claustrophobic as the scene that appears on screen, and perhaps this play requires a less cavernous space in which to watch this conversation unfold (hard to tell, as we were very near the front and so felt in the thick of the argument). The play itself may be a little dated, and as each bit of evidence is sifted, we might well ask why only juror 9 originally had any reasonable doubt, and why the accused’s defence lawyer did not fight more for him. The play does not offer a definitive conclusion, only the eventual verdict – in which we, the audience, might leave with a reasonable doubt.
This is a superior piece of drama, however, and was worth the £35 tickets we paid through Get Into London Theatre this year. Perhaps not a ‘must see’ (unlike all three English language film versions) but well worth a look, and there are tickets still available.