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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
TWELVE ANGRY MEN
at Garrick Theatre

DECEIVING APPEARANCES
By ROBERT GORE-LANGTON

  Ph: Robert Day

Twelve Angry Men was initially written for television, later adapted for the stage and in 1957 made into a successful black and white film directed by Sidney Lumet – his debut movie – and famously starring Henry Fonda in a white suit. It now returns to the West End (where it was last directed some years ago by Harold Pinter) with Martin Shaw in the Fonda role. He plays the juryman who challenges the 11-to-one consensus that a teenager is guilty of murdering his father. The kid, by the way, is meant to be Puerto Rican in the movie – like the Sharks in West Side Story, which was staged the same year as the film. 
 
It’s a blistering hot New York summer’s day, and the jurymen who are convinced it’s an open-and-shut case are keen to get the kid convicted (the death penalty is mandatory) so they can go home. But not so fast. Juror No. 7’s relentless inspection of the evidence slowly but surely corrodes the confidence of the guilty votes. 
 
Even if it creaks a little, this is still a sound entertainment. The soundtrack of the L train rushing by is here serendipitously augmented by the rumble of the tube train running beneath the Garrick theatre. As the man in the white suit, Shaw is a little too Zen-like – I am trying not to use the word dull – and totally without the moral passion that Fonda brought to the proceedings.
 
The most explosive scenes involve the ferocious juror (played with a deeply scary rage by Jeff Fahey) who comes to the jury room with his own vicious agenda. Miles Richardson is the bigot who spews venom at the accused and his ethnic sort. One nostalgic pleasure here is the appearance of a Hollywood legend. Robert Vaughn – one of The Magnificent Seven, no less – is the old-timer whose observations are of vital consequence to the verdict reversal we can see coming a mile off. Behind a bow tie and with snowy white hair, Vaughn is wonderful. 
 
Director Christopher Haydon keeps a steady hand on the tiller in an evening that’s gripping enough and with flashes of real humour I don’t recall from the film. Although it’s set in period, what’s missing in this production is the history – the sense that, whatever their verdict, this sweating all-white, all-male jury is on top of a civil rights volcano that’s about to blow.

 


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