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Twelve Angry Men, ‘the ultimate courtroom drama’, on its way to Cambridge Arts Theatre

Experienced television and theatre actor Gray O’Brien has performed in many plays over the years, but says none has received such a positive reaction as his latest project, the courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men, which is coming to the Cambridge Arts Theatre.

“It’s been an absolute joy,” says the Scottish actor, speaking from his friend’s house in Sutton Coldfield after the tour had stopped off at nearby Lichfield.

Twelve Angry Men. Picture: Bill Kenwright Ltd
Twelve Angry Men. Picture: Bill Kenwright Ltd

“It’s a great play. I was aware of this play a long, long time ago, when I was at drama school in 1989.

“There were auditions for a production done by the students, and I can’t quite remember if I read for it – but I know that David Tennant got Number 8.

“It was successful and it was probably the first thing that David did that people went ‘Oh, he’s going to do well’ – and sure enough he did.

“So I’d always been aware of the play, and then when it opened in town in the 2010s I was busy doing something else and saw the posters around the Garrick [Theatre].

“It’s always been on my wavelength and then the offer came up and I thought ‘Well great, let’s have a go at this’.”

Twelve Angry Men. Picture: Bill Kenwright Ltd
Twelve Angry Men. Picture: Bill Kenwright Ltd

The 1957 film version of Twelve Angry Men starred Henry Fonda as Juror 8. Gray plays Juror 10 in this new production, which has been on tour since the autumn.

“I believe it was quite a successful play on Broadway, by Reginald Rose,” explains Gray, whose television credits include Coronation Street, Doctor Who, and The Loch, “and Fonda had seen it and said ‘I want to do this on film, but I want it to be close to the play script’.

“So if you watch the film, it really is pretty close to the play, slightly edited.

“And it’s still telling exactly the same things 70 years on – and I have to tell you how potent it is for what’s happening in the world at the moment.

“There’s this whole thing of ‘Yes, we’re totally open to everyone coming in, but we don’t want you to come in, and we don’t want you to come in’. It’s just inert racism and bigotry.”

On the character he portrays, Gray notes: “Juror 10 is known as the grumpy guy, he shouts a lot and everyone says ‘Why are you yelling? Stop yelling’ and ‘I will like hell stop yelling’, he says.

“He’s just very motivated into his own little world… He walks in with his mind made up and he won’t be swayed through the deliberation process.”

Twelve Angry Men. Picture: Bill Kenwright Ltd
Twelve Angry Men. Picture: Bill Kenwright Ltd

The play also features Jason Merrells as Juror 8, Tristan Gemmill as Juror 3, Michael Greco as Juror 7, and Ben Nealon as Juror 12.

Gray says: “It’s been so well received this show, it’s just made it a joy to play eight times a week.

“This is the ultimate courtroom drama, this is just very cleverly done. And I think because it is a classic and because it is timeless, as the audiences are proving with the amount of ovations we’re having with it, people are just taken aback by it.

“It’s so pertinent to what’s happening in the world just now, I think, and I think it’s the best courtroom drama written.”

He adds that although it was penned 70 years ago, this current version of Twelve Angry Men hasn’t had to be edited or ‘updated’ in any way.

“The audiences have really responded to it. It’s the biggest reaction I’ve had,” concludes Gray, who appeared in a West End production of Sleuth 23 years ago with the late Peter Bowles, a new version of which recently came to the Arts Theatre.

“I think I’ve done six or seven tours; I’ve done many, many plays over the years and this has been the biggest reaction.”

Twelve Angry Men. Picture: Bill Kenwright Ltd
Twelve Angry Men. Picture: Bill Kenwright Ltd

Twelve Angry Men is on at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from Tuesday, 23 April, to Saturday, 27 April. Tickets, priced £20-£40, are available from cambridgeartstheatre.com.

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