CTG’s production of The Twelve is an adaptation of an adaptation, referencing both the classic 1954 play Twelve Angry Men and its 1991 Japanese film parody The Gentle Twelve. Following the deliberations of a jury who are largely too superficial and goodhearted to convict a beautiful young woman of murder, The Twelve presents a humorous and thoughtful piece of theatre.
The production’s greatest strength lay in its cast, who performed extremely well in what can only be called an act of endurance. In a dialogue heavy show with an almost 2.5 hour running time, no interval, and all characters always on stage, the cast maintained an impressive level of focus and dedication. Li Zhijie as Juror 2 had probably the most demanding role of the cast, which he carried well and with nuance. Playing a role characterised as ‘aggressive’ is not easy, and while he balanced this well for the most part, there were some moments in which more restraint would have offered the character more subtlety. Ouyang Ziyi gave an understatedly praiseworthy performance as Juror 1, bringing calmness and poise to the oft-rowdy jury, as well as to the production itself. Liu Jinda as Juror 12 was suitably smarmy and charismatic in his role, and Wu Manni as Juror 10 was entertaining and convincing, embodying the physical and verbal characteristics of an elderly woman to a tee. On the whole, a highly praiseworthy ensemble cast.
Director Peng Peng is also to be commended here. With no scene changes or blackouts, the play could have easily become stagnant. Instead, careful blocking, circulation and movement around the stage enabled the play to maintain clarity and dynamism. Some particularly directorial clever moments emphasised the isolation of the dissenting jury member – having him stand far apart while the others took a group photo, or hidden at the centre back of the stage. My only queries with the direction concerned textual elements that were not reflected on stage. It is, for example, explicitly stated in the text that it is one of the hottest days of the year, and that jury room lacks air-conditioning. And yet, this atmosphere is missing from the stage, with none of the characters reacting to the heat in any way – wiping their brows, fanning themselves etc. The characters’ relative failure to mention or react to a very audible thunderstorm was also puzzling, and this disjoint between the text and performance detracted somewhat from the play’s believability.
Set and prop design, whilst relatively sparse, were solid and well suited to the jury room setting. They served the requirements of the production well, allowing movement and rearrangement of the stage. Lighting and sound design similarly served the production well when employed, effectively portraying the heat of the summer and the breaking storm. A special mention must go to the makeup team, whose work was incredibly realistic, transforming three of the actors into elderly characters with great success.
CTG are to be commended on an extremely successful production in The Twelve. With concise direction, a solid tech team and most notably, a dedicated and talented cast, The Twelve proved to be an entertaining and engaging adaptation.
Melbourne University Chinese Theatre Group’s production of The Twelve ran from the 13th – 15th of October at the Lithuanian Club Theatre, North Melbourne.