Twelve Angry Men, Assembly Rooms

Stand-ups play it straight in trial triumph
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The Independent Culture

Twelve angry comedians on trial in a claustrophobic jury room have been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of creating one of the hottest tickets on the Fringe this year. In casting Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men with a mixed bag of mainly stand-up comedians, Guy Masterton and Owen O'Neill (playing Juror Eight) were taking a gamble. That each actor develops into a distinctive, dogged and damaged character with astonishing intensity is a tribute as much to the commitment of the cast as to Rose's tightly wrought play.

Under Masterton's subtle direction, these 12 unlikely lads emerge as real people - cast into a dilemma over the fate of the Puerto Rican youth on trial for murdering his father - confronting their own prejudices, pricking each other's social conscience and chipping away at the reasons that prompted the initial vote for the boy's conviction: 11 to one in favour of the electric chair.

As the sole hold-out, O'Neill slips comfortably into the role made famous by Henry Fonda in 1957, attempting to open the minds of his fellow jurors to re-examine the evidence, the witness statements and their own deductive reasoning. Reason is a scarce commodity, however, within the locked doors of this sweltering chamber. The last to be persuaded that a verdict of not guilty is the right one, bullying Juror Three (Stephen Frost) is intimidating even from the safe distance of the audience.

Juror Ten, a swaggering Phil Nichol, packs a punch as he explodes his mistrust of foreigners on to his weary colleagues, while Bill Bailey - daringly cast against type - is convincing as the urbane advocate of serious discussion of the facts.

Andy Smart's dignified questioning of his misplaced belief in the infallibility of the law, Russell Hunter's incisive comments and Jeff Green's nervy Juror Five - confessing himself to be a product of the same streets as the defendant - add yet another element to this reluctant quest for justice.

It's a salutary reminder of just how paranoid American society was in the Fifties and, with this exclusively white-Caucasian male jury, of what a limited cultural representation drove the country.

As the temperature soars inside, a thunderstorm breaks overhead. The tension mounts; the screw turns. And all credit to the performers, responsive to a man, for stopping instantly when there was an emergency in the theatre and then resuming their roles and re-establishing the play's edgy pace so effectively after the unscheduled break.

Venue 3, 12.30pm (1hr 40mins) to 25 August (0131-226 2428)