Twelve Angry Men is a drama of male conflict; it is a verbal slug-it-out to establish top dog in this jury-room version of the jungle. Reginald Rose's work began life as a TV drama, became a movie starring Henry Fonda in 1957, and feels perfectly at home on the stage.
The action takes place in a cooped-up jury room after a murder trial, in Michael Pavelka's effective cage-like set. On the first vote the 12 men are stacked 11-to-one in favour of a guilty verdict. This changes, as the play depicts one of the core American ideals: the triumph of reason. The rational man's argument prevails over the various distraught histrionic types of masculinity on display.
The jurors sit around a table which is on a very slow revolve, an almost imperceptible rotation that has an unsettling and destabilising effect in this most realistic of plays, as it unfolds in real time. The interval freezes the action, which 20 minutes later unfreezes exactly where it left off.
The play is rewarding, though utterly formulaic. It feints at its themes, whilst never really unpacking them or digging deep. The plot points are all obviously planted, and pay off tidily. We know, for example, at an early point that one juror has a problem with his son, and since the murder is a patricide, he is obviously in the grip of his own issues. Another juror's eye problems prompt them to query the eyesight of a key witness too vain to wear glasses.
Directed perfectly by Christopher Haydon with top-notch performances all round, every last scrap of shallow moral certitude is wrung from the script. The good people triumph, the bad people get humiliated. Tom Conti (pictured) is low-key but highly persuasive in the crucial role of juror number eight and he judges the moments of intensity perfectly; he drips charisma across the stage so you get plenty of star for your bucks.