Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men is now playing at 16th Avenue Theatre. This production, directed by Liam Hagan, is electrifying.
Masterful staging, aided by the terrific set and technical design, allows the audience to become part of the action – laughing, crying, and gasping along with the characters. To say the evening consisted of twelve men sitting around a table, the performance was riveting and engaging. When a play receives such an iconic film adaptation, it’s an easy and safe choice for a director to simply present the film on stage, plastering their name over another artist’s work. Liam Hagan easily forgoes that route. His direction of the piece strikes a clever balance between deference to the Sidney Lumet film and completely original interpretation of the text (notably, the work began life as a teleplay, and was first adapted for the stage years after the release of the Lumet film).
Hagan’s direction is sharp, humorous, sensitive, and captivating. Not a single line was wasted. The audience was right there with the characters from their entrance to their exit.
It’s quite a feat for a community theatre production to be able to cast twelve men (plus a cameo appearance from a thirteenth, and a voiceover from a fourteenth!) who have not a single weak link between them. The entire cast was in full force on opening night and, for the most part, their accent work was notably meticulous and convincing. Chris Parnell, Vincent Gambino, Wayne Gould, and newcomer Shaun Michael particularly bring a tangible sense of life and realism to their roles.
Matt Glover’s effervescent Juror No.Seven received some hefty chuckles from the audience, and Mike Williams was a very stoic and formidable Foreman of the Jury.
The loud, pig-headed Juror No. 3 is an easy role to overplay, but Liam Hagan effortlessly resists that temptation. The character is well-observed and perfectly subtle, even in the broader moments – a choice which pays dividends when Hagan releases the brakes and opens the floodgates in the character’s heartbreaking 11 o’clock monologue.
The show-stopping performance of the evening, however, was Brian O’Flaherty as the reserved Juror No. Eight. Every single word he uttered galvanised his (and we really were his) entire audience. I have never seen such an intoxicating, rousing performance. You could hear a pin drop (along with a very loud assortment of bottles, glasses, and cellphones) with each syllable. O’Flaherty’s is truly a performance not to miss.
There are few words to adequately describe the set, lighting, sound, and AV design (courtesy of Steve Sigley, Ben Hambling, and Mitch Sigley, respectively). From the first moments in the auditorium, the striking vision and cohesion of the technical elements creates a charged, dynamic atmosphere. Plenty of us stayed in the auditorium during the intermission just to get a better look at the set and soak up the rich environment.
I cannot recommend this production enough. Liam Hagan and the 16th Avenue team have captured lightning in a bottle with this one, so you’d better make sure you catch it. Get in quick, it’s selling like mad. Deservedly so.