AN all-female version (bar one) of Twelve Angry Men at the Roxy Lane Theatre, re-titled Twelve Angry Jurors, is putting a new spin on the classic courtroom drama.
Presented by ARENAarts and directed by Simon James, the setting has also been changed from 1950s America to Australia during World War II – but the basic premise remains the same.
A young man is accused of stabbing his father to death and, after hearing days of evidence, 11 jurors vote guilty with one voting against.
What follows is a tense drama of contradictory evidence and conflicting personalities that will keep audiences guessing to the end.
First created for television in 1954, Twelve Angry Men became a stage play the following year and then a feature film with Henry Fonda in 1957, scoring three Academy Award nominations.
James said an all-female version of the play provided a very different dynamic to an all-male or mixed cast.
“Males tend towards the bravado, posturing and attainment of superiority over other men and women,” he said.
“Although this can also be true of an all-female jury, it’s much more subtle and intriguing to explore the power-plays, insults, jostling for attention and methods used to get individual opinions to dominate over others that occur in a group solely made up of women.
“For a number of years, I seem to have been drawn to directing plays featuring largely female casts such as We Happy Few, The Hound of the Baskervilles and All The King’s Women.
“It’s great to be able to create a production that stimulates more opportunities for women and allows them to develop some pretty amazing characterisations.”
With the whole cast on stage for the entire production, James said each actor had to be constantly engaged in the play’s narrative, as well as continually acting and reacting to what was going on around them.
“Coming up with ways to achieve this has been challenging but, ultimately, very satisfying,” he said.
“Each actor has created quite a detailed backstory for the characters and we have woven that into their performance on stage.
“I had extensive workshops with each actor to work on physical characterisation so they present a well-rounded individual on stage, rather than themselves just in a different set of clothes.
“Although the script only refers to them as Juror 2, Juror 3 and so on, each actor has invented a name, family life, history and emotional and intellectual reactions to the situation they find themselves in.”
James also made the decision to change the setting of the play to make it more directly appealing and relevant to local audiences.
“With a jury of all women, I thought a wartime setting would best explain why there aren’t any men available to do their courtroom duty,” he said.
“We chose 1944 in an unspecified major city in Australia, as it was after the turning point in World War II, but at a time when victory was still not guaranteed and much hardship was still to come.
“The wartime era evokes a great ambiance – it’s a wonderfully vivid and dynamic time in history with distinctive clothes and hairstyles and memorable music.”
As for the one male actor in the otherwise all-female cast, James explains: “We had 32 women audition for the 12 jurors and could have cast one of them as the guard but Mike Moshos put himself forward as a possibility, so we went with that option instead.
“His character is obviously someone who wouldn’t have been forced to enlist during the war, so we don’t have to explain that and the role fits comfortably as a male one.”
Twelve Angry Jurors plays at 8pm May 17, 18, 24, 25, 30, 31 and June 1 with 2pm matinees May 19 and 26. Tickets are $22, $16 concession – book at www.TAZTix.com.au or call TAZTix on 9255 3336.
The Roxy Lane Theatre is on the corner of Ninth Avenue and Roxy Lane, Maylands.