COURT IN SESSION:
As Twelve Angry Men heads to Yorkshire, Phil Penfold catches up with stage and screen veteran Tom Conti.
HERE do you go when you are heading the cast of a drama set in a courtroom? For Tom Conti, the answer was perfectly obvious. A couple of years back, he found himself cast as a crusading TV journalist, who found himself in the dock. Tom recalls: “So I did what seemed totally natural. I went off to the Old Bailey, and I sat and I watched the proceedings, day after day, to get a flavour of what it was all about. I have to say that some of it was pretty gory, and there were some gruesome details disclosed. But in between all that ‘excitement’, there were some long and very boring passages that were just plain tiresome….”
He laughs: “Clearly, you can’t have those bits played out on stage, otherwise you’d be sending the audience off to sleep. So a playwright takes the best moments, and distils them into his narrative.”
But that wasn’t Tom’s first experience of the legal process. He’s now 73, and we have to go back over 60 years to when the 10-year-old Tom went to court in Scotland (he was born in Paisley and raised in Glasgow) after he and a young chum discovered some abandoned goods in a local wood.
“Being two very well-brought-up youngsters, we knew that our duty was to go to the local police station, and to report our find,” he recalls, “and then, later, we were asked to go and repeat our story in the court…the only thing I really remember is that I felt rather sorry for the man who was on trial for the burglary. He looked so very miserable.”
It will be a totally different perspective on the long arm of the law when Tom arrives in Yorkshire with a revival of the Fifties classic, Twelve Angry Men, which started life as a US TV drama, was adapted for the stage, and then became a huge hit film with Henry Fonda.
“The strange thing is,” muses Tom – based at home in North London for a few days – “that a lot of people will remember Mr Fonda’s scene-stealing performance in the movie and quite rightly so, but very few can recall what the plot is, and how it twists and develops.
“I’ve met people after the show who have said that they were mystified as to how everything turns out – and that they’d seen the film, ages back, but couldn’t remember the ending at all.
“So, in effect, we are delivering something that is very fresh. It is very much a glimpse into a world where relatively few of us will ever go. The closed room where a jury deliberates. A peek into the sanctum sanctorum,
He reflects: “Angry Men is all about conscience – doing the right thing, making sure that justice is done. I rather like that.”
HOLIDAY ROMANCE: Tom Conti and Pauline Collins in Shirley Valentine, the hit film written by Willy Russell.