Twelve Angry Men – Review – Grand Opera House, York

Twelve Angry Men – Review – Grand Opera House, York (1)

By Karl Hornsey, May 2024

Seventy years after Reginald Rose’s screenplay was first written, the latest adaptation of classic courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men comes to the Grand Opera House in York. The original star-studded film version was to follow three years later, in 1957, and has been regarded as a classic ever since. Happily, this production achieves excellence as well, boasting as it does a top-quality cast, a fittingly claustrophobic set and a storyline and script that faithfully follows the original – after all, when a story is as good as this, there’s no need to mess about with it.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, the ‘Twelve Angry Men’ in question (although strictly speaking not many of them actually are angry) are the jury in the case of a teenage boy accused of stabbing his father to death in New York City. As they retire to consider their verdict in a stifling hot room, it’s immediately clear that the vast majority believe the boy to be guilty, but, crucially, ‘Juror Number 8’ stands alone and insists that they at least talk through the evidence they’ve just listened to.

Twelve Angry Men – Review – Grand Opera House, York (3)

“Layered approach”

In the film, Henry Fonda brings enormous credence and gravitas to that role, and here, in a rather warm Grand Opera House that seemed to suit the occasion, Jason Merrells steps into Fonda’s shoes, delivering an outstanding performance as a man who gradually earns the trust of those around him with his measured and calming rationale.

Merrells is joined by the likes of Michael Greco, Tristan Gemmill, Gary Webster and Gray O’Brien in a brilliant cast, all of whom nailed the New York accent rather neatly. Gemmill takes the role of the most belligerent and well, angry, juror, played in the film by the wonderful Lee J Cobb, and of all the characters in the story, his is the one that develops the most as the story unfolds. It’s this layered approach, as the history of some of the jurors is uncovered, that adds an extra element that lifts the story from the page and makes it so fascinating to watch.

Twelve Angry Men – Review – Grand Opera House, York (2)

“Remarkably relevant”

The set is perfect for the occasion, portraying the sultriness of the heatwave, with just one main room, and a small adjoining bathroom, and a subtly revolving table that allows the jurors to be facing the audience as much as possible and keep moving themselves around the room to great effect. This is, in effect, also a morality tale and one that I found remarkably relevant in the present day, despite it being 70 years old.

The prejudices that are openly on display about the accused can be seen in the here and now, and it’s only by talking about those that the inanity of them come to light. As each character has his flaws and virtues brought to the fore, this production becomes more impressive the longer it goes on, culminating in a tense and emotional finale with Merrells and Gemmill to the fore.

Twelve Angry Men‘ continues until Saturday at the Grand Opera House, as the final venue of its nationwide tour
images: Jack Merriman


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