Imagine an FA Cup match in which Torquay United is losing 11-1 to Arsenal. They are only 10 minutes into the game and the end result is so clear-cut there is little point in continuing. Imagine, then, when Torquay gradually edge their way back to victory.
The process that unfolds among the jurors in Reginald Rose’s 1950 drama, who are faced with the case of a black teenager accused of murdering his father, isn’t dissimilar. There are plenty of witnesses, no alibis and nothing to suggest that the boy didn’t commit the fatal stabbing, but as the heat is turned up between the 12 nameless jurors, they begin to move further and further away from a unanimous verdict.
Flying the flag for Torquay – or in this case, the accused – is Martin Shaw, well-known for his role as Judge John Deed in the hit television series of the same name, but now playing a different part in the judicial system, as a juror and the only man willing to profess the defendant’s innocence.
He is set against opposition that includes Miles Richardson’s irate gruff-voiced Juror 10, who is convinced that the colour of the suspect’s skin is enough to prove his guilt, Jeff Fahey’s short-tempered and assured Juror 3, an aggrieved man who is as assertive as the prosecution in his condemnation of the boy, and Nick Moran’s wise-cracking Juror 7 whose loyalties lie more with escaping his duty to see a sports game than seeking justice.
With immaculate direction from Christopher Haydon, who draws every ounce of drama and tension from the group of 12 men, and a cast, which also includes Robert Vaughn as a doddery but rational old man, that cannot be faulted, it is surprising that another aspect of the production proves the most remarkable. But so clever is the almost imperceptible revolve built into Michael Pavelka’s innovative design that it almost steals the show. By slowly rotating the central table, it gives the audience a 360 degree view of the jury room throughout the duration of the production.
Pavelka’s set aside, what makes the play fascinating is not the jurors’ eventual conclusion, as that seems obvious from the offset, but the way in which they reach it, the cast bringing to life Rose’s riveting script in a production that is packed full of gripping dialogue and witty exchanges.