"A Life in their Hands"
by Margaret Morley for remotegoat on 22/01/14

Martin Shaw stars in this moral and intellectual play and is supported by many distinguished and talented actors. “Twelve Angry Men” depicts the reasoning and emotions of twelve jurors in America deciding whether someone is innocent or guilty of first degree murder, where a guilty verdict will result in the death penalty.

Martin Shaw is well cast, having a history in judicial roles including “The Professionals” which was filmed from 1977-1981, where he co-starred with Lewis Collins, RIP a man described as, "the real life James Bond". A great number of admirers of this series have been drawn to the theatre.

In this current theatrical play, Martin Shaw although angry did not shout or use an aggressive tone. He chose the humanitarian route. He adopted an American accent as appropriate to the setting of the play, where a unanimous verdict is required. The well written play, which was first released on film in 1957, gives him much to investigate in a role commencing in a situation where the verdict is eleven to one.

There are a few light hearted moments along the way in this heavy drama in lines such as, “Let’s throw it out and see if the cat licks it up” and “Here’s an idea, let’s run it up the flag pole and see if anyone salutes it”, where the decision is to be decided on the probability of reasonable doubt. They are dealing with a matter which isn’t an exact science and where the burden of proof lies with the prosecution.

The case turns out not to be as clear cut as some first thought, following the court case. A variety of characters add to the realism and complexity of the matter. Tensions build up, but the two fight scenes in the stage performance did not provide evidence of professional referral. Whilst the jurors would probably not be trained in martial arts, someone stood in between two of them to stop a fight without showing any awareness of being injured himself. Whilst this may be true to life, it did not look realistic.

Near the end, the final jury member to speak could have been given direction not to shout too much. Whilst a climax and crescendo is in order, it was so loud and continuous that I lost what was being said. Also a greater emphasis on some dramatic sound would have added to the atmosphere.

With regards to the production a transparent curtain depicts the fact that the case takes place inside a court house and this is quite an inventive idea. However the long swirling table around which the twelve jurors took their seats was slowly rotated, it was probably moved to reflect the change in thought and verdict of the jurors, but it had the effect of causing dizziness. Faced with the current price of theatre tickets, the audience were also faced with looking at grimy/rusty radiators.

However, overall the thorough investigation, and great actors and acting provides for a very good insightful show, in London’s West End.

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