Fringe Box



Dragon Review: Twelve Angry Men – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 13 Mar, 2024
Updated on: 15 Mar, 2024

Juror 8 (Jason Merrils), bottom left, declining to join the otherwise unanimous initial vote.

By Martin Giles

“Prejudice gets in the way of truth,” is the underlying message of this famous play. It is a message at least as relevant in the age of the internet and social media as it was when it was first written and performed in the 1950s.

The premise of the play, now on tour after a successful West End run, is that a jury of 12 men are charged with arriving at a verdict in a murder case; at stake the life of a 16-year-old black boy.

The single set is a clever and convincing depiction of a jury room, a sense of claustrophobia accentuated by the locking the door by the guard and the heat of an east coast summer.

The confinement of the jury room adds to the pressure felt by the 12 Angry Men

Such pressure raises tempers and quickly the jurors begin to argue over the case and whether there is any reasonable doubt that the boy is guilty.

The arguments soon reveal obvious prejudices, not just about the accused but against some of the jurors. One is black with direct experience of the type of background from which the boy has come, one is European, perhaps Jewish, with all that could mean, given the proximity of the Second World War.

Some show their prejudice more than others, some take their duty more seriously, some have quicker tempers, a wide range of human nature is on show.

The changing balance of the debate is reflected by the subtle rotation of the dominant jury table which turns a full 360 degrees during the play in which Juror 8 demonstrates how dogged determination and intellect can be used to persuade and influence – but it is an uphill struggle

This production at the Yvonne Arnaud by Bill Kenright Ltd was a great advert for live theatre and the power and drama it can deliver. A head start is provided by a great script but it has to be matched with high-quality acting to create a memorable performance.

And that is what we got, across the board. It might seem unfair to pick out individuals but the most demanding parts, juror 8 and juror 10, were very well played by Jason Merrils and Jeffrey Harmer respectively.

Tempers boil – juror 3  (Tristan Gemmell) has to be held back when confronting juror 8 (Jasonm).

The casting consultant should also take a bow. Each actor seemed to fit into his role easily to create credible characters.

The all-male cast of 13 actors is a rarity today but reflects the reality of the time. Although women could sit on juries in 1950s America they were permitted to decline, so all male juries were common.

As is often the case these days, the Yvonne Arnaud audience was made up of older theatregoers. It is a shame, as the subject has as much relevance to younger people as anyone in the current world of, all too frequently, polarised views.

By the way, let me give a shout out for the Yvonne Arnaud technicians responsible for the induction audio loop which connects with hearing aids. The lady next to me said it worked very well and allowed her to follow the play despite the speedy dialogue delivered in American accents.

I tried hard to find a reasonable doubt which would cause me to award less than full marks but I couldn’t. And as there were a few empty seats at last night’s performance my advice is to snap them up.

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Responses to Dragon Review: Twelve Angry Men – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

  1. Ron Cork Reply

    March 13, 2024 at 2:27 pm

    Very helpful review.

    The point about the make up of the audience ( ie mainly older theatre goers ) is well made.

    The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre does, I understand, offer concessions on standard ticket prices for students and under 25s and for groups and schools. Could this offer be better publicised in order to attract younger potential theatre goers?

    Also pointing out the efficiency of the induction audio loop is worthwhile in order to encourage attendance by theatre goers who find hearing enhancement helpful.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    March 13, 2024 at 2:56 pm

    How often our local politics mirror this play.

    Councillors went along with: The Pop-up Village; The Local Plan; Town centre proposals (North Street & Debenhams);
    Weyside Village; London Road Active Travel.

    Then someone spoke out and they all eventually realise… the dissenter was right!

  3. Olly Azad Reply

    March 13, 2024 at 5:50 pm

    To award Twelve Angry Men with an impressive five stars is enough compelling evidence to get to the Yvonne Arnaud without further ado!
    I suspect tickets will be sold out for this show very soon. Although there are matinee performances which can be convenient for some theatregoers.

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