Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Circus of Blood

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Circus of Blood

Article excerpt

Twelve Angry Men Garrick, until 1 March

Strange actor, Martin Shaw. He's got all the right equipment for major stardom: a handsome and complicated face, a languid sexiness, a decent physique and a magnificent throbbing voice. He sounds like a lion feeling peckish in mid-afternoon. At top volume, his growl could dislodge chimney pots.

And yet he's just a steady-eddy TV performer who does the odd stint in the West End.

Why isn't he Patrick Stewart or Anthony Hopkins? Perhaps his rhythm is too slow.

Certainly, he lacks pep or sparkle, or a sense of mystery. You know what he's going to do next because he's just done it. And even then it wasn't much. Warmth, innocence and fun are outside his range but these defects make him a great choice to play the central role in Twelve Angry Men.

The script, filmed in 1957 with Henry Fonda, is an ingenious upside-down whodunnit. A teenage boy is about to get the chair for knifing his father to death. The evidence is stacked against him and the jury retires to consider its verdict. But a lone maverick raises concerns about the boy's guilt. Martin Shaw, doing the Henry Fonda bit, has an oddly insubstantial character. He works as an architect but we learn nothing else about his background or his emotional life. His dramatic journey is unsatisfying. He begins with a few doubts. He ends with those doubts strengthened but not confirmed. He has no coloration or depth, he just prowls the stage wearing an off-white suit and an air of benign and wintry high-mindedness. He's the spirit of justice rather than an individual.

And Shaw's stony rectitude is well suited to the part. Other characters add flavour and variety.

Miles Richardson plays a fast-talking Italian-American bigot. The script is too subtle and sophisticated to confront the issue of race head-on but Richardson's character reveals that the suspect is black. In a bilious spittle-flecked speech he denounces 'those people' as savages, whose breeding habits and homicidal tendencies threaten the rest of America. The others turn on him and order him to 'shut his dirty mouth'. He retreats to a corner and slumps in a chair like a wounded ox. A great role, and Richardson attacks it at full throttle.

Nick Moran, every mum's favourite angel-faced thug, plays a nervy street-hustler who's keen to deliver a verdict, any verdict, so he can slope off to watch a ball game. …

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