No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter

The performance I attended was held on Saturday 3 September 2016 at The New Theatre, Cardiff.

No Man’s Land is an absurdist play by Harold Pinter written in 1974 and first produced and published in 1975. Its original production was at the Old Vic Theatre in London by the National Theatre on 23 April 1975, and it later transferred to Wyndhams Theatre, July 1975 – January 1976, the Lyttelton Theatre April– – May 1976, and New York October – –December, returning to the Lyttelton, January – –February 1977.

Setting

“A large room in a house in North West London” on a summer night and the following morning.”
Hirst is an alcoholic upper-class literature who lives in a grand house presumed to be in Hampstead, with Foster and Briggs, respectively his purported amanuensis and man servant (or apparent bodyguard), who may be lovers. Spooner, a “failed, down-at-heel poet” whom Hirst has “picked up in a Hampstead pub” and invited home for a drink, becomes Hirst’s house guest for the night; claiming to be a fellow poet, through a contest of at least-partly fantastic reminiscences, he appears to have known Hirst at university and to have shared mutual male and female acquaintances and relationships. The four characters are named after cricket players.

Cast

Patrick Stewart as Hirst, a man in his sixties
Ian McKellen as Spooner, a man in his sixties
Damien Molony as Foster, a man in his thirties
Owen Teale as Briggs, a man in his forties
Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart return to the UK stage in Sean Mathias’ acclaimed production of No Man’s Land, one of the most brilliantly entertaining plays by Nobel Prize laureate Harold Pinter.

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Plot
“One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.”

Act 1

A man in his sixties named Hirst begins a night of heavy drinking (mainly Scotch) in his drawing room with an anonymous peer who he only just met at a pub. Hirst’s overly talkative guest, calling himself a poet, long-windedly explains how he is penetratingly perceptive, until he finally introduces himself as “Spooner”. As the men are becoming more intoxicated, Hirst suddenly rises and throws his glass, while Spooner abruptly taunts Hirst about his masculinity and wife. Hirst merely comments “No man’s land…does Not move…or Change…or Grow old…remains…forever…icy…silent”, Before collapsing twice and finally crawling out of the room.

A young man enters and suspiciously questions Spooner, who now becomes relatively silent, about his identity. The younger man introduces himself as John “Jack” Foster before the entrance of a fourth man, Briggs, who is in his forties and who also unsuccessfully questions Spooner and then bickers with Foster.

At last, Hirst re-enters, having slept, and struggles to remember a recent dream. Foster and Briggs have also started drinking, and they refill the older men’s glasses. Hirst mentions an album of photographs he keeps, commenting on the appearances of the people in the album. He does not appear to fully remember Spooner’s identity, insisting that his true friends are kept safely in the album. He begins drinking straight from the bottle, mutters incoherent statements, and continues to ponder his dream—involving someone drowning—when Spooner abruptly says that he was the one drowning in Hirst’s dream. Hirst drunkenly collapses and Spooner now rushes in to Hirst’s aid, brushing away the two younger men and claiming to be Hirst’s true friend. The younger pair becomes defensive and accusatory, asserting their obligation to protect Hirst against “men of evil”. Foster openly criticises his own past, as well as Hirst’s impulsiveness and alcoholism. It gradually becomes apparent that Foster is Hirst’s apprentice and housekeeper, and Briggs is Hirst’s personal servant. All exit except for Spooner and Foster, the latter of who says, “Listen. You know what it’s like when you’re in a room with the light on and then suddenly the light goes out? I’ll show you. It’s like this”. He flicks off the lights, causing a blackout.

Act 2

The next morning, Spooner, alone, stands from his chair and attempts to leave, but the door is locked. Briggs soon enters to deliver Spooner food and champagne, rambling on about how he met Foster and ignoring Spooner’s desire to know why the door was locked. Spooner thinks of a quick excuse to leave; however, when Briggs mentions that both Foster and Hirst are poets, Spooner show vague recognition of this fact.

Hirst himself bursts in and is delighted to see Spooner, whom he oddly mistakes for (or pretends) is an old friend. He speaks as though the two were Oxbridge classmates in the 1930s, which Spooner finally plays along with. Hirst and Spooner then bizarrely discuss scandalous romantic encounters they both had with the same women, leading to a series of increasingly questionable reminiscences, until finally Hirst is accused of having had an affair with Spooner’s own wife. All the while, Hirst refers to Briggs by a variety of inconsistent names and then launches into a rant about once-known faces in his photo album.

Spooner says that Foster, who now reappears, should have pursued his dream of being a poet, instead of working for Hirst. Spooner shows great interest in seeing Hirst’s photo album, but both Briggs and Foster discourage this. All four are now drinking champagne, and Foster, for his own pride and dignity’s sake, abruptly asserts that he desired to work in this house of his own choice, where he feels privileged to serve as famous a writer as Hirst. Suddenly, Spooner asks desperately that Hirst consider hiring him as well, verbosely praising his own work ethic and other virtues. After all this, Hirst merely replies “Let’s change the subject for the last time”. And after a pause worriedly asks “What have I said?” Foster explains definitively that Hirst’s statement means that he (Hirst) will never be able to change the subject ever again. Hirst thinks back to his youth, when he mistakenly thought he saw a drowned body in a lake. Spooner now comments, “No. You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.” Hirst responds “I’ll drink to that!” and the lights fade slowly to black.

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Production Design and Costume:

The safety curtain (well not the safety one but the scene setting one I’ve forgotten the name of) had imagery reminiscent of a dark, foreboding, forest and tattered edging so it didn’t meet the stage floor uniformally. Somehow due to the 2 or maybe three thin layers of gauze it had a 3D like effect.

no mans land stage layout.png

The single room setting of the performance has a semi-circular design, as if we were in the keep of a castle except the walls have a square glass brick effect (which seemed to be popular a few years ago or at least my local cinema and bingo hall use a similar effect) due tinged a dark turquoise. The floor has pale pine wooden slats following the semi circular design and a mat/rug with fleur de leis on it coloured deep turquoise and paler turquoise respectively. This carpeting is slightly off centre from the circular pattern of the floorboards as if to non-verbally indicate to the audience that things are not quite as simple and straight forward as they initially appear. To the rear, of centre to the left, is a window hidden behind heavy, dusty it seems, curtains obscuring any natural light entering the room despite the possibility of Hirst going out for his daily walk (which he refuses as it isn’t very light outside when he looks).

On the right is the single door on and off stage. A plain, varnished, wooden door. To the rear a well stocked bar with a cupboard in the bench hiding even more bottles. A few glasses are used during the performance as Hirst always needs another drink and often so do the others.

The room is sparsely furnitured. To either side are free standing lamps, the right of which has a small table with it. Three chairs populate the room. Two are simple wooden ones but the third, off centre to the left, is the most important. It is Hirst’s green Chesterfield chair which only he ever sits in as the master of the house. Next to it is a small side table which he places his whiskey glass upon. A trolley, with fold out wings and covered in a white sheet to make it a table, is used for Spooner’s breakfast at the start of the second half. It is wheeled in and abruptly out by Briggs.

Costume wise Hirst wears a navy three piece suit but for most of the first half this is replaced by a striped night gown. Spooner wears a dull great suit and in the second half for a brief time has on his Mac in readiness to leave. Foster and Briggs wear clothes in the style of the 1970s i.e. brown boots, leather jackets and bellbottom trousers. In the second half, with their roles as house staff revealed, Briggs wears a blue three piece suit, later discarding the jacket with his sleeves rolled up, and Foster reappears in the last few scenes in a pastel suit. In contrast to the Americanised version I have to immediately note Stewart didn’t have a wig during the performance I saw and I don’t think McKellen had a ponytail (and obviously the roles of Foster and Briggs were different actors).

Review:
The venue was sold out and it was the final night. As is often the case here when its sold out there was barely any room to move at the entrance as they put the programme selling stall at the bottom of the stairs which start right by the left side of the entrance doors. Across the small entrance way is the box office with one, maybe two, people able to serve through the small windows. Of course people queue here too and I haven’t accounted for the people standing around chatting idly having gotten themselves drinks from the bar. Saying that once you got up stairs there was more room, not much seating but that is to be expected due to the limited space.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the boxes were used for their original purpose of ‘being seen to be seen at the theatre’ thought they are renowned for their poor view of the stage. As it is they probably worked out cheaper than some of the stall seats for tonight’s performance.

The New Theatre used to be the premier location for stage plays in Cardiff but after the establishment of the Wales Millennium Centre it was quickly usurped and although still respectable it never regained this position. It’s heyday, during my life time, was probably around 1996 when Anthony Hopkins, fresh from his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, directed his stage adaptation of Uncle Vanya transposing Chekov’s Uncle Vanya to a turn-of-the-century Welsh setting, emphasising the hardships of Welsh industrial life in the slate quarries and Welsh-English turmoil. Aside from the New Theatre and WMC Chapter Arts Centre, the Sherman Theatre and recently the Gates Art Centre have grown in prominence as venues for the arts in Cardiff.

The play itself I enjoyed but I think there is an important caveat to this: I knew what the meta-narrative of the play was regarding Pinter’s mindset when he wrote it and what it represented to him. What we see portrayed on the stage is not literal. Metaphor is heavily used in this play and the audience are hinted towards this reading when Spooner proclaims his joy at its use by Hirst in the first act.

Hirst is an old man at the end of his life consumed by memories which he cannot recollect with any accuracy. He often talks of a photo album he has and the faces in it yet he himself doesn’t recognise Spooner at the start and indeed we as an audience must ask if, when he does acknowledge him as a friend from his youth, if the conversation they are having is actually between old acquaintances or if Spooner is playing along and making up stuff which Hirst, being a braggard, pretends to remember but doesn’t. In fact we could ask if any of the characters, apart from Hirst, even do exist at all or perhaps speculate that they represent different aspects of himself – Foster as his young brash self who sees opportunities in the future and is very cocky; Briggs as his masculine side aggressive, objective and arrogant; Spooner as his poetic aspect and view of old age reflecting how, now at the end of his days, he thinks back to his youth but cannot recall it with accuracy and wants to ignore, if not outright dismiss, his old age from himself and instead ‘remembers’ someone drowning but can’t recall their face. Perhaps we take this as it is him seeing himself drowning metaphorically in life unable to escape from himself.

Of course there are many ways to read this play and that is, for the most part, intentional. It is however also its weakness as you must have some knowledge of Pinter, or at least writers of his generation, and how the use of language is multilayered with more than a single understanding. Waiting For Godot, by Samuel Beckett, (premiered on 5 January 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris) is perhaps the greatest example of this use of dialogue. Symbolism and metaphor are replete throughout the work and for an audience not prepared for this they may declare it pretentious as they are unprepared. If you have not watched a work like this before I think it wise to watch the film version of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (first staged in 1966 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) to see if this sort of play is to your liking. In fact it would be hard to deny the influence Beckett and Stoppard must have had on Pinter when you make comparisons.

It would be easy to see this play as a response to Waiting For Godot. There are parallels between Vladimir and Hirst contrasting that of Estragon and Spooner but in both pairs certain aspects are exchanged. Beckett, in a correspondence reflects that “Estragon is inert and Vladimir restless.” In a twist we see Hirst, who of the pair is the slightly better off as Vladimir is, is mostly sitting for much of the first act despite how spry he is in the second, and in contrast Spooner, a poet (just as Estragon should have been Vladimir comments) is very spry unlike Estragon who is mostly seen to be sitting or reclining. In Waitng For Godot it is Vladimir who is constantly reminding Estragon but here Spooner reminds Hirst. In the first stage production of Waiting For Godot, which Beckett oversaw, both are “more shabby-genteel than ragged…Vladimir At least is capable of being scandalised…on A matter of etiquette when Estragon begs for chicken bones or money.” In No Man’s Land Hirst is scandalised by Spooner’s accusations of youthful infidelity and, while eating his breakfast, Spooner uses the serviette as a bib instead of placing it on his lap (and indeed when putting his coat on forgets to remove it). There are many facets which could be explored in analysing the intertextuality of the pieces but that should be left for another time and place.

This is not a play of events but of moods. It is a dialogue about themes which often haunted Pinter throughout his career – most obviously those of memory and death. I highly recommend it but this is one of those occasions where you are better off knowing what happens so you can focus on the nuances of the actor’s performances. If I had a criticism of the one I attended it was the audience not knowing the tone. Some laughed at any point that might be potentially comedic, for example when Hirst collapses and then crawls out of the room, but these scenes could also be played very seriously (which I believe was the intent this night) so it seemed there was a dissonance between performance and audience on the night. Of course we must reflect that the line between a tragedy and comedy is a fine line. In tragedy we identify with them and their inability to prevent the course of events but in comedy we anticipate it and take joy in their suffering. I feel the play could easily be played to either extreme. Certainly McKellen was playing to the comedic angle while Stewart played a very serious figure and somehow, as hard as it might be to believe, they did not gel on stage although this may have been intentional due to the characters’ contrasting natures. As for Molony as Foster he played his role with much energy and easily interacted with McKellen who he has directed in other plays a number of times now. Teale as Briggs was suitably intimidating and stern. He did however remind me of Danny Dyer and, unsurprisingly, I discovered that Dyer had performed this role a few years ago in another production which lead me to question if Teale was imitating Dyer or if Dyer, by some fluke of nature, had discovered a role all but made for him he fit it so perfectly.

It was an excellent performance in every respect but the audience seemed to be at odds with the intended tone at times.

Outside the stage doors I didn’t see the autograph hunters who are always present at these things. There was an A4 printed sign in the stage door saying the cast would only be signing things to do with the production (i.e. Don’t you dare come here with things relating to Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Stella, etc). After the show the theatre manager, who for some reason was wearing a full white tie dinner suit, said no one could take selfies and you probably wouldn’t even get an autograph. Ian McKellen to his credit tried to sign as many autographs as possible as did Damien Molony and Owen Teale. Unfortunately Patrick Stewart had to rush off as he was about to miss his train though he did try to sign some brochures before leaving.

In summary: Go and see it as it is a classic of modern theatre but know what you are getting into regarding Pinter’s intent. Don’t just go because there are recognisable names otherwise you will be lost when you realise it isn’t going to be as straight forward as something you watch on television or in the cinema.



Anton Chekhov’s ‘Предложение’ (a.k.a A Marriage Proposal / The Proposal)

Предложение (a.k.a ‘A Marriage Proposal‘ or ‘The Proposal‘) is a one act farce by Антон Павлович Чехов (Anton Pavlovich Chekhov), written somewhere between 1888 to 1889 and first performed in 1890. It is a fast paced play of dialogue based action and situational humour. Usually it is performed in combination with other short pieces of Chekhov‘s such as Медведь: Шутка в одном действии (‘The Bear: A Joke in One Act’ or ‘The Boor’).

I was reminded of this piece by the marriage proposal story line featured in ITV’s Dr Thorne mini series which concluded last night. A turn of fortune changes the mind of the future groom’s mother regarding the marital appropriateness of Dr Thorne‘s niece and so there is a marriage and the mother in law is teased for her preoccupation with the families fortunes wishing for her son to marry for money and not love. This theme was prevalent during the nineteenth century with the most widely recognised examples being in the novels ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1813) and ‘Wuthering Heights’ (1847 – albeit in the latter part of the novel which is often omitted in adaptions).

Dramatis personæ:

  • Stepan Stepanovitch Chubukov, 54 years old, man (or 70 as he claims at one point to be ‘twice [Ivan’s] age at one point.
  • Natalia Stepanovna Chubukova, his daughter, 25 years old
  • Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov, 35 years old, a neighbour of Chubukov, a large and hearty, but very suspicious landowner

Plot:

Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov, a long time neighbor of Stepan Stepanovitch Chubukov, has come to propose marriage to Chubukov’s 25-year-old daughter, Natalia. Stephan gives his permission and Natalia is invited into the room, while Stephan steps out, so Ivan may make his proposal to Natalia.

However instead they get into a disagreement about the ownership of the Oxen Meadows adjoining their properties which Ivan intended to gift her as a dowry. The passionate disagreement results in Ivan, a foppish hypochondriac, suffering supposed palpitations and a numbness in his leg. Stepan, rejoining them, notices this and he himself argues about the sort of bad people the Lomov family have been in the past and has Ivan leave his house. While Stepan rants about Lomov, he expresses his shock that “this fool dares to make you [Natalia] a proposal of marriage!” She immediately starts into hysterics, begging for her father to bring him back which he does immediately.

Natalia and Ivan get into a second argument, this time about the superiority of their respective hunting dogs, respectively Squeezer (who is unfit to be a hunting dog) and Guess (who is old and lame). Stepan gets involved and is close to losing his temper and makes this clear to Ivan. At this junction yet again, after accusing Stepan of being an intriguer amongst other things, foppish Ivan gets a case of vapors and collapses from his exhaustion over arguing . Thus Stepan and Natalia, after checking him, fear he is deceased. Stepan also begins to over react at the junction and Natalia cries over the sudden death brought on by the argument.

However, after a few minutes Ivan regains consciousness, and Stepan, insisting they leave him alone afterwards,  all but forces Ivan and his daughter Natalia to accept the marriage proposal with a kiss. Immediately following Ivan’s kiss on Natasha’s hand, the couple restarts their argument over the dogs and Stepan resigned tries to change the subject by calling for champagne to celebrate while decrying this is how they start their union.

The End.

Review:

This is a light hearted skit mocking the over sentimentalisation of marriage proposals alongside the etiquette and behaviour of the the middle classes.


At the start the participates formally address each other using the personal Christian/first name and the patronymic name (based on the name of the individual’s father) indicates how this is a serious proposal but quickly this falls into farce as the arguments arise between the individuals. The equivalent of Mr, Miss, Ms or Mrs were very uncommon and even today tend to be used more often regarding foreigners although it should also be noted the use of the patronymic today is reserved usually for formal occasions while it was more common in use during the past. Later in the piece all sense of etiquette is thrown out as the squabbling takes its place and even after order is restored the personal behaviour of the couple erupts once more over a trivial matter.


You may note how the men in the play are mirrored by the dogs. Ivan is Squeezer who is ‘overstrung’ and Stepan is Guesser who is ‘old and lame’. Natalia speaks dotingly of her dog Squeezer and perhaps this gives an indication of how her marriage will continue in which she will both argue and yet dot on her husband in the future (and it can easily be seen this is how it will go as such a pairing was very commonly portrayed in dramas of the time regarding married couples and you can see reflected in what would become a cliche in televised sitcoms from America focused on a central married couple even today).


If you saw an adaption without Chekhov‘s name attached and with a localised setting would you realise that this is the work a playwright from over a century ago? I doubt it. These character’s archetypes are universal and timeless. If you changed the names to a more local variant you can see them time and time again reflected in later works worldwide. A central male character, usually middle age or reaching it, who over reacts to events around him in situations he has no control over. A woman who is concerned regarding social matters and very argumentative with cutting comments directed towards her partner (which it is fair to comment is a sexist stereotype nowadays). An old man or woman, usually the parent of one of the more prominent characters, passing comment on events and mentioning the past both positively and negatively. These dramatic caricatures repeat as theirs is a simplistic truth pinpointing the faults of society and its nature to confuse the trivial with the sincere within the grander intentions of the people involved.


This is a simple piece and highly entertaining. As I noted earlier it is often performed accompanied by other short pieces by Chekhov and they offer views of society which still hold as true a view of society today as they did during their writing over a century ago. I would highly recommend seeing live performances as there is an energy there which is hard to replicate through recorded versions. I provide the audio book above, which is a fair simple audio performance, so you can experience the dialogue but nothing beats a live performance.


I often want to see adaptions of Chekhov’s works and they are apparently often repeated in repertoires but somehow never seem to be performed near me. I attended the performance of ‘August’, Anthony Hopkins‘ adaption of ‘Uncle Vanya’, when it was premiered at the New Theatre, Cardiff but since then it seems a far rarer thing in South Wales to see the works of Chekhov despite my every care and attention regarding the yearly repertoires in the performing arts of Wales.


People seem intimidated by the works of Russian writers – after all how often do we hear Tolstoy‘s Война и мир (War and Peace) being used as a synonym for ‘immensely long and difficult to read book’? This is due to Tolstoy‘s personal predilection of going into prolonged commentaries about society which pad the book up quite a bit and do not reflect Russian literature at all. The works of Dostoevsky are influenced by Dickens and read just as easily with a focus more on narrative than reflection. The works of Chekhov are expedient, in comparison to previous generations indulgences in the poetics of language, in how concise the dialogue is. The only limit seems, according to a Russian friend,  to be how the Russian productions of these works usually over sentimentalise them, which effects foreign productions perceptions of how to adapt them, when they can be produced in a far more relevant way to today’s audiences.


Yet with this said the BBC‘s recent near cinematic production of ‘War and Peace’ proves even Tolstoy can be translated in an easily understood adaption. Albeit, as is inevitable with many adaptions of literature, some of the aspects are lost for immediacy or because hearing the inner thoughts of a character is a difficult concept to translate without giving them long running monologues or a voice over which takes you out of the scene.


There is a stigma sadly but, once you have dipped your toe into the water and realise how absurd the prejudice is, there is a world of universally recognisable character archetypes in  Russian works.

‘August’ was also made into a film.
 For whatever reason WordPress is refusing to let me space the review part out properly so I used the ‘horizontal line’ tool to break it up and make it a little bit more easy and pleasing to read layout wise.

Twelve Angry Men

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Angry_Men

Following its record breaking West End run, this powerful new production of Reginald Rose’s gripping courtroom thriller Twelve Angry Men has been hailed as the “classiest, most intelligent drama in the West End”. It brings to the stage the taut brilliance of the 1957 three-time Academy Award nominated film which starred Henry Fonda and is considered to be one of the great ‘must-see’ movies of all time.

A jury has murder on their minds and a life in their hands as they decide the fate of a young delinquent accused of killing his father. But what appears to be an open and shut case soon becomes a huge dilemma as prejudices and preconceived ideas about the accused, the trial and each other turn the tables every which way, until the nail-biting climax…

Tom Conti is one of the most respected and celebrated actors of his generation. Unforgettable as the leading man in hit films such as Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Shirley Valentine, he has also appeared as a myriad of different characters on both the big and small screens as well as on stage. Recent movies include The Dark Knight Rises and Street Dance. Awards include the Olivier Award and Tony Award for his stage performance in Whose Life is it Anyway? and a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in Reuben Reuben. He and Dame Judi Dench were recently jointly voted the Most Popular Actors in the West End in the last 25 years.

Now it’s your turn to witness a ‘BRILLIANT’, ‘RIVETING’, ‘TRIUMPH’of a show.

The play concerns the deliberations of the jury of a homicide trial. At the beginning, they have a nearly unanimous decision of guilty, with a single dissenter in Juror 8 questioning the validity of the evidence they were presented with in the court room, who throughout the play sows a seed of reasonable doubt. It was first made as a 1954 teleplay by Reginald Rose for the Studio One anthology television series, and was aired as a CBS live production on 20 September 1954. The drama was later rewritten for the stage in 1955 under the same title.

Here is a simple diagram of the stage layout as best I could remember it.

12 angry men stage layout

The blue bars at the top are windows with in the second half have water drizzling down them to represent the ongoing storm outside. The red bars are the tables. The central one revolved during the performance (and the direction is gradually turned in doing a full revolution by the end).The yellow circles with the lines are chairs. The yellow bars are the benches. The green bar is the coat rail. The brown bars are the doors (the left most was a toilet cubicle leading off stage). The triangles are where the lighting pillars were. The hexagon, with a blue circle, was the water cooler. The rounded corner squares with blue inner squares were the wash hand basins where a few conversations occurred as asides between some jurors.

The set design is effective and there is no scenery which blocks you view of events on stage. Similar to a recent production of ‘Dial M for Murder’ I saw there seems to be a trend to rotate scenes on stage to, at best, provide a visually different perspective on events, or worst, keep modern attention deficit audiences visually stimulated. During the intermission there was more than one conversation I heard from other groups discussing how they noticed the central table being rotated and debating whether it was the cast doing this of the turning circle of the stage floor (it was the stage floor which has a rotating circle where the table and chairs surrounding it were placed).

The Cast are: – Juror 1: Andrew Frame, Juror 2: David Calvitto, Juror 3: Andrew Lancel, Juror 4: Robert Duncan, Juror 5: Alexander Forsyth, Juror 6: Mark Carter, Juror 7: Sean Power, Juror 8: Tom Conti, Juror 9: Paul Beech, Juror 10: Denis Lill, Juror 11: Edward Halsted, Juror 12: Gareth David-Lloyd and Guard: Jon Carver.

The performance lasts approximately 2 hours 10 minutes including a 20 minute interval.
This production of Twelve Angry Men was first performed on 4 October 2013 in The HOUSE at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. First performance at the Garrick Theatre: 7 November 2013

Each member of the jury represents a different aspect of society:

Juror 1: The Foreman: (Andrew Frame) The jury foreman, somewhat preoccupied with his duties; proves to be accommodating to others. An assistant high school football coach. Tends to attempt to prevent heated arguments. Ninth to enter a vote of not guilty. He represents the balance of debate within the American legal system where the Socratic Method is employed. Each side gets to voice its side but, unlike the impassioned speeches we are used to seeing in American court room dramas, to be done so in a measured manner of comment and rebuttal. His voting later indicates that not only possible, but reasonable, doubt has been cast on the reliability of the case. Though he represents a balanced view by being told he is an assistant highschool football coach we are also being informed of his character as an individual i.e. he is a team player, an authoritarian who respects the authority of his superiors. This is why he holds out as long as he does until voting not guilty – not because he cannot see Juror 8’s logic but that in a sense he believes as there has been a murderer so there must be a culprit and the song is the only one ever presented during the play. Only when all the evidence is easily challenged and the verdict of guilty will lead a highly likely, if not innocent then at least justified murder done in self-defence, boy to being executed.

Juror 2: (David Calvitto) A meek and unpretentious bank clerk who is at first domineered by others but finds his voice as the discussion goes on. Fifth to enter a vote of not guilty. He represents those in society who fear to make their voices heard and more often than not go with the general consensus which can lead to bad consequences as seen with the people of Germany who did not challenge the Nazi party though many knew what was happening in their name was wrong. To be honest I don’t really remember much of this character ironically.

Juror 3: (Andrew Lancell) A businessman and distraught father, opinionated and stubborn with a temper; the antagonist. Twelfth to enter a vote of not guilty. A person ruled by his emotions and unable to be logically objective as a jury member. He sees the defendant as a potential version of his son and in seeing this wishes to excise the thought of it by punishing him. He therefore is the worst sort of person for jury duty as he cannot view the case by its own merits but rather brings to it all his inherent prejudices which influence his actions. As a businessman he is a respectable member of society so he is worse than some of the more negatively portrayed jurors as there is a façade of respectability when we are often presented with his being the least rational. The end of the first act concludes with him becoming violently angry with juror 8, who has constantly tested him, leading him to shouting ‘I’ll kill him’ while being restrained by other jurors. This declaration proves Juror 8’s point that someone will passionately declare this though it is rhetoric and does not mean the person has any intent in actually doing this.

Juror 4: (Robert Duncan) A rational stockbroker, unflappable, self-assured, and analytical. Eleventh to enter a vote of not guilty. Perhaps the most logical of the jurors but one who needs to have all the evidence be refutable before he will change his vote. In doing this we are shown that although rational he still favours the status quo of believing that as no evidence has been provided in the defendants defence then what does exist must be the only matters considered. This shows the fallacy then of being a completely rational person as, unlike Juror 8 who challenges based on the weakness of the evidence, we find with this character that omission is not taken into consideration. To him only what is presented to him exists and in doing this he is easily misguided for example when the female defendant shows signs of being a glasses wearer but doesn’t do so in court and the matter that she may not have seen what she believes she saw is brought into contention.

Juror 5: (Alexander Forsyth) A soft-spoken young man from a violent slum, in the book a Milwaukee Brewers fan, in the movies and on Broadway, a Baltimore Orioles fan. Third to enter a vote of not guilty. This juror represents empathy towards others in decision making as he can identify with the defendants situation having come from a similar background. He is the one who is first accused of changing his vote due to this and although he is not it is one of the earliest reassessments that occur in the play. Why then did he vote guilty initially? Because of social pressure perhaps? There was a crime there must be a culprit though of course at the end of the play we are only told of and concerned by the decision to acquit the defendant not with who did or did not commit the murder.

Juror 6: (Mark Carter) A house painter, tough but principled and respectful. Sixth to enter a vote of not guilty. He often stands up to others when they become outspoken and aggressive. He is the common man of the play representing that people understand the difference between right and wrong but are ruled over by the majority. He therefore is the middle ground of all the jurors and so it is no coincidence he therefore is the ‘middle’ most vote during the entire process.

Juror 7: (Sean Power) A salesman, sports fan, superficial and indifferent to the deliberations. Seventh to enter a vote of not guilty. A person who does not care for the verdict as long as he gets to do what he wants. He is the most distraught at the start of the play as having to discuss the verdict means he won’t be able to go see the sports game he has tickets for. When during the second part a storm means the game is a wash out he becomes more amicable and quiet. However it should be noted his reason for voting not guilty is not so much out of a belief that the defendant is innocent as much as to ‘tip the scales’ so that he is with the majority and thus ‘hedging his bets’. He therefore represents the sort of person who nowadays can often be heard saying ‘what is the point of voting? It doesn’t affect my life’. A short sighted individual only concerned with their own matters and apathetic to others.

Juror 8: (Tom Conti) An architect, the first dissenter and protagonist. Identified as “Davis” at the end. The first to enter a vote of not guilty thus setting off the events of the play. He sees the flaw in the logic of the evidence provided and does not go with the majority and vote with them for an easy life as others may have. We are told he is an architect, a professional, and in doing so we are presented with the bias of the play unfortunately in that many of the professional people are logical while the working classes are ruled by their prejudices and emotions (with two key exceptions in Jurors 3 (too emotionally guided), 4 (too rational and unable to imagine the alternatives not presented). Of course this is not an ironclad rule and we see during the course of events various facets to each character but it does seem to be an overarching aspect to the play where the working class characters will shout while the professionals will speak far more calmly. It is possible it was just the production I saw which gave this impression however. Juror 8 is the idealised protagonist, a person who will stand for what is right no matter how much opposition there is, who never is really challenged successfully in his views though on at least one occasion he actively antagonises a juror into anger to get the reaction of being told ‘I’ll kill him!’ so he is not without a dark side.

Juror 9: (Paul Beech) A wise and observant elderly man. Identified as “McCardle” at the end. Second to enter a vote of not guilty. Someone who has much life experience and perhaps is suggested to have become more liberal with age. He sides with Juror 8 not completely out of agreement but because there is the possibility of there being something to what he has said in challenging the status quo. He however waits until the secret ballot before agreeing showing us that although the older generation may still have a standpoint to provide the are easily put to one side and require others to be the ‘hot blooded’ individual to cast the first stone. He is a figure of respect throughout the play though it is only in offering support and perspective via his life experience in contrast to the younger members of the jury.

Juror 10: (Denis Lill) A garage owner; a pushy and loud mouthed bigot. Tenth to enter a vote of not guilty. The stereotypical working class figure as written by the middle classes. His saving grace in the play is that unlike the businessman Juror 3 he is not expected to know better and thus although he also allows his prejudice to rule his logic he is more excused for it that the ‘antagonist’ Juror 3.

Juror 11: (Edward Halstead) A thoughtful German watchmaker and naturalized American citizen. Fourth to enter a vote of not guilty. He provides a perspective from outside American society. In practise this shows that when he is presented with a fair challenge to the majority view. The play was originally written in 1957 so it is hard to not assume the character was not in Germany during the Nazi regime. Is this then the playwright’s commentary on how the people of Germany, by now fully aware of the atrocities performed in their name, are not ambivalent to other’s suffering and should not be held personally responsible for what the regime did? He provides wordy contributions as if to enact the freedom of speech he has gained in America which was denied to him in Germany. Though it is not addressed as aggressively as it may have been in a real life version of this situation you can imagine he has faced persecution and prejudice and in doing so can identify with being unfairly judged. He therefore represents sympathy where Juror 5 represented empathy.

Juror 12: (Gareth David-Lloyd) A wisecracking, indecisive advertising executive. Eighth to enter a vote of not guilty. He talks big but his vote is easily changed from one to the next. As an advertising executive we see how easily swayed he is in his opinion in order to appease the majority. He switches it back and forth in a matter of minutes based on only small changes in opinion in the others. The playwright no doubt is commenting on the façade of respectable society which so easily can be swayed by external forces.

The Guard: (Jon Carver). I am not sure if he is the voice at the start of the play, when the ensemble are sat on the benches at the front of the stage ‘in court’ being informed, along with the audience, what their deliberation requires. That it must be a unanimous vote in this case, due to it being a homicide, so they must have unanimous agreement amongst themselves whether the 16 year old defendant is guilty of murdering his father or not. His only real role in the play is to bring on required items like the knife and the floor plan of the apartments.

Review: As it is an ensemble play it feels unfair to cite one person over another as standing out in the play. Indeed, if anything, standing out would be detrimental to the piece. Tom Conti’s voice doesn’t tonally lend itself to doing a satisfying American accent unfortunately although a few of the others also adopt broad American accents that we would associate with the 1950s so it is in keeping with the others. Gareth David-Lloyd, of the more prominent characters, has one of the better accents and I have to admit I would not have realised he was the same person who played Torchwood’s Ianto unless I had seen his name in the brochure.

If I had one criticism it would be the revolving central table. Similar to a recent production of ‘Dial M for Murder’ I saw there seems to be a trend to rotate scenes on stage to, at best, provide a visually different perspective on events, or worst, keep modern attention deficit audiences visually stimulated. During the intermission there was more than one conversation I heard from other groups discussing how they noticed the central table being rotated and debating whether it was the cast doing this of the turning circle of the stage floor (it was the stage floor). It seemed very distracting and, to me, a poor choice as there are multiple other pieces of scenery which remain static throughout the play thus giving the impression the table turning is happening in the reality of the play and not being commented on by anyone as ridiculous as that is to read. Very much in the style of chamber dramas, plays occurring in a single room, there felt no need to include the revolving table.

Regarding the marketing its clear they have superimposed replacement actors heads onto the cast of the original run. some of it is okay but on the whole it all seems slapdash and really makes the posters look ugly thoguh i appreciate it is not as if people will look as closely as I did or actually be bothered about it. I am just one of those people who notices these things and lament the loss of the time when marketing involved more than just using basic photshop skills to edit a photograph while abusing filters and basic typography settings. Film posters are far more guilty of this than stage productions however i will admit.

I enjoyed it as a morality play and felt the cast is quite strong. If you get a chance to see it by all means do though I think it is heavily reliant not only in casting good actors but in them working well as an ensemble so there can be no guarantee that big names will result in satisfying performances. I thought this production did well and certainly has received a wide number of accolades. If you can catch it during its tour it is definitely worth going to see.


Next time on the misadventures of blogging… a food or drink review.