The small space of Hardline Productions’ studio is the perfect venue for 12 Angry Men, putting us almost directly inside the small confines of the juror room with the actors, in what is a thoroughly entertaining evening of theatre.
Directed by the trial judge, twelve jurors are locked away and told to convict a young man, accused in the murder of his father, only if there is no reasonable doubt in their minds that he committed the crime. A quick poll at the outset of their deliberations sees eleven jurors ready to convict with Juror #8 (Byron Noble) the only holdout, placing some doubt as to certain pieces of the evidence. For the next 60 minutes the jury re-examines the facts presented during the trial and confronts some of their own biases that led to such a quick initial verdict.
In an era where CSI sees criminals convicted on the physical evidence collected, computerized and DNAized, the idea that a jury dissecting and analysing the evidence presented would hold any interest could be problematic. But while this aspect of the show might be from a different time, it is in the performances from the actors that wholly make this show resonate and it is within these carefully measured and developed characters that this cast delivers.
While definitely an ensemble piece with each of the actors delivering, there are still some great individual performances here. Byron Noble as the initial hold-out for conviction gives the first of many measured performances, remaining rock-steady in his belief that perhaps a closer examination of the facts is warranted. He stares down every aggressive advance and never wallows in any sort of smugness or providing us with any reason to doubt his motives.
Along with Noble, Juror #3 (played by Sean Oliver) is another featured character whose catharsis brings some of the most tense and emotional moments of the evening. I did hope for a little more spontaneity during one scene where he attacks Juror #8, but otherwise his is another measured performance that doesn’t let his anger overtake him.
Emmelia Gordon (Juror #10) also shines as the somewhat simple juror whose racial rant in the last third of the play was both enthralling and cringe-inspiring. What made her explosion even greater was in watching in the previous 40 or so minutes in how she got to that point.
Gordon is actually one of a trio of talented women (Adrianne Dunsmore as the Foreman and Sheryl Thompson as Juror #11) that director Genevieve Fleming has assembled here, giving a gender-bending twist to what is traditionally played by an all-male cast (although to be fair, 12 Angry Jurors is not an uncommon presentation of this play).
Along with this incredible cast, director Genevieve Fleming has worked hard to give us some wonderful visual moments throughout the play. Her choice to place her actors in the middle of the small theatre space brings us right into the room with them and she has obviously worked hard with her cast here to ensure they never play to that reality. Whether intentional or not, by immersing us within the closed space, which became quite warm as the show progressed, brought an added element of realism to the proceedings without feeling like we were being manipulated.
Director Fleming has also worked hard here in ensuring that the play doesn’t become a tennis match as focus shifts from one character to another. As I sat and listened to the text, I revelled in watching the reaction of each character to what was happening around them.
A little disappointing was the lack of any visible minorities, with one exception, in the casting which would have provided even greater depth to some of the themes explored much like the addition of the female jurors in this production.
That this young company continues to provide the ultimate access to some great theatre with all performances pay-what-you-can ($12 suggested), should mean not an empty seat in the house. But while the price might be right, you will certainly not be short-changed.
I predicted after Hardline Productions’ last show that this company was destined for great things. Based on 12 Angry Men, I am confident this prediction is coming true.
Hardline Productions 1; Audience 1.
Twelve Angry Men
DreamLife Studio, Gastown
4 – 15 August 2010