Breathtaking depiction of a jury exposes heartache and prejudice

The tension builds to almost unbearable levels in this superb analysis of prejudice – and how difficult it is for people to change their minds, even when a life depends on it.
12 Angry Men is on at The Lowry. Picture by Jack Merriman12 Angry Men is on at The Lowry. Picture by Jack Merriman
12 Angry Men is on at The Lowry. Picture by Jack Merriman

The audience at The Lowry in Salford were transfixed by these 12 Angry Men of a 1950s jury in New York having to decide on the fate of a 16-year-old boy accused of stabbing his father to death.

The murder case appears to be open-and-shut with all the evidence stacked against the teen, and with 11 of the 12 men in the jury room sure of his guilt. But as a storm builds outside in the sweltering heat of a summer evening in The Big Apple, one juror expresses doubt about the evidence.

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And then, slowly at first, the case against the boy crumbles, and by the time the intermission is reached, six jurors are now unsure of the boy’s guilt.


What develops in the second half is jaw-dropping and sensational but without ever losing touch with the very human stories that each juror brings to this interpretation of the 1957 film classic.

There are periods of intense silence throughout as the jurors think, raw from the arguing and shouting that has just taken place.

It is as if the audience is witnessing the most painful and excruciating of arguments and the only sound to be heard after many explosive scenes is the faint whirring of a half-broken fan, part of the fantastic, moody set depicting a court room for jurors to debate the fate of defendants.

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And for this young defendant, a guilty verdict will surely mean the death penalty.

What starts out as a chaotic chatterbox of a performance, with 12 men all looking to have their say, quickly settles into a rhythm that reveals the key players and the two factions involved – those with doubt about the boy’s guilt and those who are unshakeably convinced.

And yet, through reasoned debate rising above the anger and shouting, a shift in perception emerges and it is nothing less than triumphant.

Having been a court reporter for more than a decade, I can well understand how opinions can shift dramatically as new evidence emerges, or as doubts about that evidence are brought forward.

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But for some, once a mind has been set, it is very difficult for a change to be made and this play explores the reasons why in a devastatingly real expose of what it is to be human.

12 Angry Men is at The Lowry until Saturday.

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