Poznan Teatr Nowy spektakl pt. Dwunastu gniewnych ludzi Bartlomiej Sowa
Bartlomiej Sowa

Dwunastu gniewnych ludzi (12 Angry Men)

Reviewer's Rating

Imagine you have been asked to sit on a jury that deliberates the case of a teenager who allegedly murdered his father. The boy lives in the slums. He was seen carrying a switchblade a couple of times. And just before the tragedy he was heard shouting “I’ll kill you” at somebody. The verdict seems obvious: guilty. But then you start wondering. Have the two elderly witnesses actually seen and heard what they reported? Is poverty a prerequisite to crime? Isn’t it prejudice that makes you assume the boy’s culpability? It’s no longer easy to sentence the teenager to death, is it?

Being an adaptation of Reginald Rose’s drama and Sidney Lumet’s film, Radosław Rychcik’s play revolves around the aforementioned ethical dilemma. Initially, the theatrical titular angry men, much like their cinematic counterparts, are more preoccupied with discussing football and smoking cigars than trying to analyse the evidence. The murder trial seems to be an open-and-shut case to all but one juror. Their vote, which begins as 11-to-1 for guilty, reverses gradually throughout the performance. In the end, however, it is not the verdict that leaves the spectators awestruck but the brilliance with which the dynamics between the twelve strikingly different characters is built.

The suspense in Rychcik’s plays comes entirely from personality conflict. The jurors represent varying attitudes towards the crime as well as to life in general. Their opinions about the culprit and each other, shaped by their backgrounds, occupations, and experiences, are subject to change throughout the performance. They’re revealed to the audience not only by dialogue but also by body language and facial expressions. Thus, it is the oftentimes sharp and grotesque but never empty or tacky mannerism that allows one to easily distinguish the characters who, due to wearing the same tuxedos, are indistinguishable at first glance.

The acting of all twelve actors is superb; however, two seem to create characters that stay with the spectator for a much longer time after the performance than the others. One of them is Mateusz Ławrynowicz who portrays Juror 8 as a kind man whose belief in the good nature of humankind seduces most of the remaining eleven men. His character, however, is not as pure as it might seem. His desperate need to prove the culprit’s innocence reflects a rebellious nature that craves open confrontation. A worthy opponent to him is Juror 3 (brilliant Tomasz Nosinski) who escapes easy categorization as well. On the one hand, he is a cold, distanced, and merciless prosecutor; on the other, he refuses to succumb to Juror 8’s charms and, as a result, turns out to be the only character capable of abiding by the rules he claimed to be dear to him at the beginning of the play.

The suspense is amplified by the music and stage design as well. The steady electronic beats of Michał Lis’s music are perfectly synchronized with every one of the innumerable steps that the jurors take when pacing the nearly empty stage. The only elements of the scenography they use are the 50s-style microphones which separate them from the spectators and the golden glitter which they throw at the audience in the moments of revelation. The most meaningful prop, however, is hanging from the ceiling and remains untouched by the jurors. It is a giant Doberman which reminds us of the dark and animalistic side of human nature that can come to the fore at any time; all it needs is a little push.