Hearing that 51% of the British population seems to be in favour of reintroducing the death penalty, and in the current environment of political unrest, the theatre group Sanford Collective decides it is time for a classic court room drama. Based in Sanford Housing Cooperative, in Sanford Walk, New Cross, this is a self-funded, all-volunteers theatre group where the director and the producer are also part of the cast.
The original play is based in 1950s United States of America. This current adaptation is placed in The Royal Court of Justice, London, in the near future. The death penalty has been re-introduced, via the traditional British method of hanging on the gallows.
Twelve court jurors of diverse backgrounds have been called to try the case of a 16 year old boy, accused of murdering his father.
A self-conscious, small petty man as the foreman; a quiet, meek woman as juror number 2; a forceful, intolerant bully and estranged father as juror number 3; a practised speaker and arch rationalist as juror number 4; an estate-raised nurse as juror number 5; a “not used to doing the supposing” house-painter as juror number 6; a xenophobic hooligan with a thick foreign accent as juror number 7; a natural leader as juror number 8; a frail old woman as juror number 9; a racist, angry and bitter woman as juror number 10; a watch-maker as juror number 11; and an advertising agent as juror number 12. All must weigh up the evidence and witness statements to ultimately decide, not upon the guilt or innocence of the young man on trial, but upon their own abilities to condemn.
Although it looks like a clear cut case and there is only one (“great, there is always one”) juror who disagrees with the rest, deliberations slowly cast doubt over the case, much to the dismay of the hooligan, in a hurry for a football game, the racist bigot who fears how “they are multiplying” and the father of a big lad who “hit me in the face”.
The atmosphere in the jury room is oppressively hot (“Wonderful, the fan doesn’t work”; “Excuse me, don’t you sweat?”). Although the première was going to be in the open air, and the rain preventing this might have been seen as a set-back, actually the alternative stage, the newly installed cabin, provided the perfect claustrophobic enclosure that Rose wanted to convey originally, as surely the stage in the Fox & Firkin will provide for the last two final performances.
The play has various hilarious moments (“He don’t even speak good English!”) and more numerous tense situations (“Now sit down and don’t open your filthy mouth again”), building up to the brilliantly delivered, climatic final monologue.