Theatre Review from the July 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, Comedy Theatre, London
When we go to the theatre or the cinema—or watch TV for that matter—our reactions to what we see and hear are complicated. Two matters seem of particular importance. First, we have a series of expectations about the play or the film. We expect that we will see some kind of story unfold before our eyes. But is it to be a comedy or a tragedy? Is it set in the past, present or future? What is the story about?
Second, what we hear and see, and its significance, validity and impact, depend on how we interpret the events taking place in front of us. Can we identify with the characters being played by the actors? Do they seem real and credible? Do some or all of them enlist our sympathy? Does the history and how it unfolds encourage our interest and involvement? Does it seem plausible? Does it square with our beliefs about how and why people react as they do? How do we interpret the play for the film? What is its meaning for us?
Socialists have particular beliefs and insights; they are part of our world view, and they largely determine our responses to both events in the real world (sic) of employment, politics, family and friends, etc., and the supposed fictions of the stage and screen.
I don't know the intentions of Reginald Rose who wrote Twelve Angry Men—initially as a TV drama, then as a famous film (Academy Award nominations galore), and now as a play—but I think he would be surprised by the inspiring messages which socialists draw from the tale.
Simply stated Twelve Angry Men is the story of a murder case jury which is about to vote guilty, but decides otherwise in the face of the arguments of one doubting member. It is a paean to the virtues of non-conformity in defence of "the truth"; of one man standing alone and courageously demanding that his fellows confront the facts of the case; the triumph of common sense and reason over guesswork and prejudice.
Socialists will identify with juror number eight who fights his corner with such tenacity, and who demands that his fellow jurors confront the evidence rather than speculations founded on hearsay and prejudice. And they will applaud his respect for his fellow jurors. He argues his case persuasively, but requires that his colleagues take responsibility for their own actions. They must decide they are free mean living in a notional democracy; they must take charge of their own lives and determine the fate of the prisoner for themselves. He presents his case but respects their autonomy. He wants their knowing, full-hearted agreement not just their votes. He is an educator rather than a propagandist. His actions are those of a socialist revolutionary committed to equality and truth seeking, rather than a reformist politician wanting to win at any price. And his respect for his fellow jurors bears fruit. They emerge as reasonable men, capable of changing their minds and behaving responsibly.
Twelve Angry Men makes for a stirring evening for imaginative socialists. The present production is uniformly excellent and thoroughly recommended.