Stage Review: 12 Angry Men

by Ffyona Livingstone Clark

edited top picture 12AM

12 Angry Men (2013)
Ffyona’s RATING: 4.5/5
Production company: BottledSnail Productions
Director: Max Paterson
Assistant-Director: Josh Glanc
Producer: Bruce Hardy
Assistant-Producers: Siobhan Toohey and David Barda

In the interests of full and frank disclosure I will begin with this: in my past life I trained in Stage Management and Lighting Design. My mum was a professional opera singer, and I quite literally grew up in the backstage areas of many theatres. I have seen some good amateur productions, some shocking professional ones, and everything in between.

And then there’s BottledSnail’s production of 12 Angry Men…

For the uninformed amongst us, 12 Angry Men started its life as a teleplay/film which follows a jury as they deliberate over the age old question of reasonable doubt.

The story itself is based on the premise that an 18-year-old boy from the slums is alleged to have stabbed his father to death. The action begins with Juror 8 returning his verdict of not guilty and thus the discussions of the hung jury begin.

BottledSnail compadres Max Paterson and Josh Glanc adapted the original script for the benefit of a Melbourne audience. And to add just a touch of atmospheric gravitas the production was staged Court No. 2 at the Supreme Court – the scene of the Melbourne Gangland trials. With the exception of packing the entire audience into a jury room (and let’s not mention the fact that the crew had to strip the set after each performance at the request of the Court) the venue could not have been a better choice.

As to the staging, I thought the director, Max Peterson, approached the issue very cleverly. Arna Delle-Vergini and I were both seated in the Associate’s seat in front of the bench. Those 10 minutes before the show started were delightfully awkward; it felt like the entire audience was watching us. I’ll confess I was more than a little concerned that we were going to miss a large part of the action. However, the blocking (the character’s moves) were done such that the cast rotated around the bar table meaning that audience never felt like they were missing out.  (I was reliably informed by a senior junior that the best seat in the house was, indeed, the dock – but lets hope none of us ever find that out for ourselves!)

The cast was made up members of the Victorian Bar and although I am sure they are all well versed with delivering sound legal performances from the bar table, it’s safe to say they actually could all quit their day jobs and head for the bright lights of Broadway or London’s West End….. well, at the very least they’d make “off Broadway” and somewhere in London.

I understand that most, if not all of the cast continued to take briefs and were appearing during the days that 12 Angry Men ran. To do any day job and then run the Am-Dram performance gauntlet at night is a demanding exercise – to do that when your day job involves giving a performance of another kind is really quite remarkable.

Sure, there were a few hiccups here and there, and a couple of awkward silences while someone desperately tried to grab their next line as it danced across the tip of their tongue. But we must not forget that this was an amateur performance and, as far as I’m concerned, those “mistakes” only add to the pleasure of watching people doing something for love and enjoyment, and not money.

Collectively and individually, the cast were great. The role of each juror plays to a particular type of person and each cast member delivered a sound performance of his or her character. Nothing felt too over performed or understated – Much like baby bear’s porridge it was just right!

However there were a couple of standout performances.  Simon Marks SC (Dever’s) played Juror 8, the protagonist of 12 Angry Men.  It is Juror 8 who delivers the first “not guilty” vote and, in this role, I think Simon Marks reminded us all that serious decisions cannot be made without proper consideration. Simon’s performance was cohesive, engaging, and compassionate and his interaction with the other jurors as he took them through the evidence was captivating viewing.

The other standout from the evening was new VicBar member Kylie Weston-Scheuber (Green’s) who played the tale’s antagonist – Juror 3.  Some three weeks after seeing Kylie’s performance, I’m still at a loss for words. Juror 3 rides a rollercoaster of emotions towards, I guess, a kind of personal epiphany: I was with Kylie on every single part of that ride. She was astounding. In fact, when Juror 3 breaks down towards the end of the play, so compelling was Kylie’s performance that I cried too (and that hasn’t happened since I watched the baby elephant get lost in the dust storm in Attenborough’s “Planet Earth”).

The ability to suck an audience in and take them with you cannot be underestimated. If Kylie has the same impact when delivering submissions she will undoubtedly be a formidable opponent. Good people of the Bar: consider yourselves on notice!

Finally, honourable mention must go to Loula Athanasopoulos (Gordon & Jackson’s) who played Juror 11 – the Eastern European migrant who reminds us all how lucky we are to have a fair and impartial legal system. Loula did the entire play with a thick accent that did not waver, not even once (and believe me, I was listening). It was such a convincing performance that to hear her sans accent after the show was actually quite a shock!

All-in-all, the BottledSnail production of 12 Angry Men was, frankly, outstanding. Well adapted, well staged, and most definitely well performed.

BottledSnail have managed to secure an extended run of 12 Angry Men, this time being staged at the Melbourne Town Hall Council Chamber on 23 and 24 October (the 25 October performance has already sold out). Tickets for the show are available here. Do yourself a favour and go along – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

BottledSnail Productions Inc is a theatre company for the legal profession. They produce and support high-quality creative and theatrical projects run by Melbourne’s legal community.

BottledSnail believes that providing a creative outlet for members of the legal community to engage in
the performing arts is an effective way of promoting good mental health and giving back to the community.

12 Angry Men image thanks to BottledSnail