(Nobuko Tanaka’s article appeared in The Japan Times, 9/11; photo of actor Shinichi Tsutsumi.)
Back in January, when English director Lindsay Posner visited Tokyo for preparatory meetings to stage the iconic courtroom drama “Twelve Angry Men” at Bunkamura Theatre Cocoon in Shibuya Ward, he was expecting to return in a few months to a city abuzz with excitement over the Summer Olympics.
Instead, the pandemic has put both the Games and international travel on hold — resulting in Posner having to log into Zoom in the early hours of his day to conduct rehearsals from his home in London with an all-Japanese cast eight hours ahead and more than 9,500 kilometers away.
Running Sept. 11 to Oct. 4, this production also marks the reopening of Theatre Cocoon following its closure on Feb. 28 due to the government’s state of emergency in response to COVID-19.
Posner, 61, has only worked through an interpreter once before, when he staged a musical version of “Cinderella” with a Russian cast in Moscow in 2016. Now add to that the challenge of working long-distance and you’d think the director might be at his wit’s end, but Posner says he welcomes the experience to work with a cast who don’t speak English.
In fact, he cheerfully notes during our video chat, “it’s interesting how you get used to things very quickly.” His enthusiasm also stems from a long-standing desire to stage this work by the socially incisive U.S. writer Reginald Rose.
First broadcast as a 60-minute television drama in 1954, Rose rewrote “Twelve Angry Men” for the stage the following year. However, it was 1957’s Hollywood adaptation, titled “12 Angry Men” — which Rose wrote and co-produced with the film’s star, Henry Fonda — that propelled this tale told almost entirely from within a murder trial’s jury room to wide acclaim. It was nominated for three Academy Awards and, in 2008, the American Film Institute selected the film for its second-place spot on a list of the Top 10 greatest U.S. courtroom dramas (behind 1962’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” starring Gregory Peck and Mary Badham).
The story revolves around 12 male jurors from a wide range of backgrounds who are to deliberate the case of a poverty-stricken 16-year-old boy accused of stabbing his abusive father to death. The judge has instructed the jurors that they must arrive at a unanimous verdict, and if they find him guilty then the teen will receive the death penalty.
At first it seems the boy’s fate will be sealed quickly as a majority of the jurors — known only by their numbers, one through 12 — agree that he is guilty — all except Juror No. 8 (played in the Tokyo production by Shinichi Tsutsumi), who casts doubt on the prosecutor’s case so effectively that the others start reversing their verdicts one by one.