‘Twelve Angry Jurors’ has been adapted for the stage by Sherman L. Sergel; it is based on Reginald Rose’s tense Oscar nominated 1954 film script, ‘Twelve Angry Men’, a classic set in the 1960s. Here we have twelve angry or confused women. This version has all of the tension and suspense of the original.
This top-rate production is being presented by ARENAarts in the Roxy Lane Theatre at the corner of 55 Ninth Avenue and Roxy Lane in Maylands. Plenty of free parking and only 100 metres from Maylands’s station. The gripping two-hour performances have curtain up at 8.00 on Friday and Saturday evenings until Saturday 31st May. There are also Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm on the 19th and 26th May.
The opening night was a charity fund raiser for Solaris Cancer Care, a leader in integrative cancer care. They provide patients and families with a helping hand towards attaining optimal health and wellness.
The scene: 1944, towards the end of World War 2, in a typical Australian city.
The set: A mahogany panelled jury room, overlooking scruffy tenement buildings.
A semi-circle of school tables with wooden chairs from the era. Next to the proscenium arch was a table with water jug and glasses. The panelled walls of the room were constructed from stained plywood but looked most effective. At the rear of the room a couple of steps led up to a 60 cms high walkway. A large window with a large central pane of glass and two hinged side windows overlooked the crumbling building opposite. The set was designed by Simon James and solidly constructed by Jim Chantry.
Gradually this talented, enthusiastic and ambitious acting company – this is their third production in the new venue – are acquiring other companies’ lighting and sound equipment rejects.
The lighting and sound effects were mainly controlled by Simon James at the rear of the auditorium, but due to limited facilities, there was added help required for some of the effects from stage manager, Mike Moshos, at the back of the set. Don Allen was once again on hand as tech adviser. Christine Ellis was in charge of co-ordinating the well-researched costumes.
Audiences are welcomed at the Roxy Lane Theatre with perfect music reminiscent of the 1940s.
A Judge (Michael Robinson – ‘dubbed’ by Semaj Nomis) approaches the edge of the stage and miming explains “A 19-year-old is accused of murdering his abusive father and if found guilty the punishment will be death. A life hangs in the balance.”
The Jury Room door opens and – because so many men are away at war – an all-female Jury enters. They are followed by the Guard (Mike Moshos) who is carrying a tray of tea and coffee. He places the refreshments on the side table and leaves; locking the adjudicators in the room.
The smartly dressed, elderly Foreman (Christine Ellis) nervously asks the group to take their seats. The miserable and extremely opinionated Juror Three (Lis Hoffman) blasphemes at the whole inconvenience; being staid and deeply religious, the Foreman immediately and pettily asks for no further bad language. With difficulty and under pressure, she calls for an initial vote to see what the general consensus is. Being a local civil servant and auditor, Juror Twelve (Lisa McDonald) is a dab hand at maths and is pleased to help.
All but one finds the boy guilty; all other than the caring and pedantically thorough Juror Eight (Julie Holmshaw) who quietly, but with determination, points out that a boy’s life is at stake and the wrong man may easily be sent to the gallows.
Feeling the friction of Juror 3 seated next to her, Juror Two (Andrea O’Donnell) meekly asks if she can change seats around the table, the others oblige. Two proves to be easily swayed. Being one of the local aristocracy, Juror Four (Janet Pusey) feels superior to the rest of the jurors.
The youngest Juror, number Five (Ashlee McKenna) has lived in the slums her whole life, so knows boys like the accused. Deep thinking Juror Six (Hetty Lobegeiger) makes her considerations slowly and carefully; she becomes friends with a disabled Juror, Nine (Jenny Smith) a mild, gentle lady who is most respectful.
Juror Seven (Trish Zanetti) dressed in a tatty old suit, is a loud, rough farm worker who has more important things to do than sit on a jury. When Juror Eleven (Viviane Testa) a refugee who came to Australia from Europe in 1941 states her mind, the bigoted Juror Ten (Amy Swerlowycz) points out that ‘bloody foreigners’ should not even be allowed on juries.
With so much ignorance and bigotry, the Jury can go either way – or could it be a hung Jury?
I had to wonder why, after Melville’s multi-award-winning production of a similar play a couple of years ago, would anyone be foolish or ambitious enough to present the play again so soon, especially with a cast that included a few stage virgins. However, director Simon James had 35 performers at the audition from whom to select his dozen. Then, over several weeks he concentrated on each actor individually, ensuring that they REALLY understood every nuance of their character. Each cast member was then asked to write a short ‘from the heart’ monologue that was to be delivered directly to the audience. Throughout the play, the action would freeze, and the set’s lighting went red. An actor would move to the front of the stage where a lone white spotlight would illuminate them, this then allowed us to see the depth of each juror’s suffering and the logic behind their decisions. The actor would return to the action, the lights would come up and the play continue as before.
So, with twelve actors all with major important parts, Megan Smith and Cecilia Clennell assisted with the rehearsals ensuring no sloppiness or loss of focus would be contemplated or tolerated. The characters ranged from the calm and logical Juror Eight to the snarling terror of Juror Three. Two particularly powerful performances by Julie and Lis in an already exceptional cast. The newcomers? Can you spot them? Brilliant work.
A different and more absorbing approach to a sensitive subject, rather than the raw male version of the story.
A very good production with admirable, powerful and emotion packed performances.