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Just or just justifiable?

Rama Ariadi / Khmer Times Share:
The adaptation of ‘Twelve Angry Men’ examined how the subjectivity of jurors impacts their supposedly objective deliberations. KT/Rama Ariadi

The Singapore Club Cambodia organised a networking event called “Shiok Night” at Samba Elite last Friday. This was the first time this year that the Singapore Club Cambodia hosted an event to welcome their old and new members to join in the networking and share connections and business opportunities in Cambodia. La Troupe de Theatre Francophone de Phnom Penh returned to the stage over the weekend with its production of Reginald Rose’s classic play, “Twelve Angry Men”.

The original play, which captured the attention of the world after it was adapted for the silver screen in 1957 by Henry Fonda, is by no means an easy one to tackle as it is as much a performance as it is a cerebral social commentary on the arbitrary nature of the judicial system. So when director Julia Leyris decided to juxtapose the seriousness of the message by adapting the original play to the tunes of the acting sovereign of rock that is Queen, one may begin to wonder: what on Earth drove her to take such a big risk (that is, the risk of defiling Rose’s original play as well as Freddie Mercury’s magnum opuses), and has it worked?

“It was a spur-of-the-moment decision on my part,” said Leyris, who had spent countless hours scouring the archives for previous adaptations as well as the film to make sure that she managed to capture the essence of the play.

“It was during these sessions when I realised that beneath the camp glamour of Queen’s songs that many of (the songs) fit quite well with what we are trying to achieve with this play.”

The play was set to a soundtrack of Queen hits. KT/Rama Ariadi

Leyris said that the decision to set the play to a Queen soundtrack was made only a few weeks before the final rehearsal. In fact, her troupe had rehearsed far more often than the production’s band.

“As a matter of fact we only got the band together a few weeks ago,” she explained.

The truth is, it showed. Whereas Leyris’ adaptation managed to convey the essence of Rose’s original play, the band’s rather lethargic performance took away the energy from the entire spectacle, as the cast’s high-powered performances were somewhat dampened by this well-intentioned but rashly-executed concept.

That said, by interweaving the songs into the fabric of the play, it allowed the audience to ‘breathe’ in between the complex and intense examination of each juror’s perspectives on the murder case (of which the jurors are at an impassé). And rightly so, as the play was intended to provoke the audience to reflect and ask whether it is fair and good to leave out the ‘human’ aspect behind a crime by examining just the facts and evidence. Should we ignore emotions and subjective experiences in favour of ‘objectivity’, and if we do, will the outcome be just, or just justifiable?

Overall, Leyris delivered a thought-provoking production of the classic play despite the aforementioned issue. The fact that this is originally an English play, transposed to French, then set to an English soundtrack, also added to the overall complexity of the play, which could be overwhelming at times.

Considering Leyris’ penchant to adapt cerebral plays in her productions, future performances could probably benefit from simpler set-ups and less ‘distractions’ to her scripts as this is the part where Leyris excels the most.

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