Twelve Angry Men – Garrick Theatre

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Court room dramas can be tricky customers. They have a dreadful habit of slipping into complete dreariness, or worse leave you feeling so baffled with legal speak that you come away with a confusing sympathy for the legal profession for having to sit through all this humdrum despite their huge legal bills!

There is no such problem with this punchy piece that rattles along at a pace. Written in 1954 we are locked in a hot and shabby New York jury room with the twelve jurors in a murder trial. Tempers flare and prejudices spill over to give us the angry men of the title and an ensemble of bravura performances that positively sizzle in the New York heat.

The thought that today a young man could be judged not on the evidence provided but on his upbringing, or worse the colour of his skin seems grotesque, but that is exactly what we see happening here. With a great deal of arguing and an even greater amount of soul searching our twelve jurors all turn about their firmly held views one by one, a feat that you don’t think will be possible at the outset, but thanks to the clever writing of Reginald Rose is convincingly done so.

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The cast, led by the always watchable Martin Shaw fire on all cylinders from start to finish. A powerhouse performance from Jeff Fahey demonstrates how ignorance is normally born from something far deeper ending with devastating consequences. The cool and assured Robert Vaughn makes up for his aging and failing voice with a performance of mild mannered stubbornness that immediately warms you to him.

With solid support all round and a clever and subtle use of a revolving stage this is a welcome and thoughtful production that holds no great surprises, but does truly engage.

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