Interview: 12 Angry Women, this term’s ‘hot topic’ at the Oxford Union

Out of the vast body of work produced by the American writer Reginald Rose, the court room drama Twelve Angry Men is the most well-known and frequently adapted piece on stage, film and radio, and has become an inherent part of many a literature course’s curriculum. Amongst the various adaptions and remakes are several theatrical versions of the drama that cast women in the roles of the jurors, however, Twelve Angry Women: A Rehearsed Reading will put a new twist on the gendered nature of the play according to director and OUDS president Katie Ebner-Landy and producer Rebecca Roughan.

Working with the original script by Rose, Katie argues that previous all-female renditions of the play merely refrained to “modelling the characters in their plays on the male characters; it wasn’t like creating a whole new atmosphere, just reflecting or transposing it”. She explains how this particular interpretation of the play challenges the conventional ‘gender-swapped’ renditions from a linguistic perspective: “I think it’s quite a challenge for an actor to be able to create a female character out of a male character, it’s a totally different way of approaching a text. (…) My aim was to have people read it through after creating female characters and try a come up with alternatives to ‘gentleman’, ‘boy’ or ‘guy’ on the spot; we had to change lots of stuff and the things that was most pertinent was not how aggressive they were to each other physically, but how they speak, their really confrontational style of speaking. You just can’t find an equivalent with women, with female pronouns, it just doesn’t work which we found really interesting, so we’re trying to keep that disjuncture and that awkwardness”. An example for the linguistic rearrangement of the script is the sentence ‘How would you like me to cave your head in for you, you smart little bastard?’ in which the original ‘bastard’ will be replaced with ‘c***’, a word Katie describes as a “more female insult”.

Rebecca highlights that changing the format of the drama from a stage play to a rehearsed reading is first and foremost an experiment: “We’re seeing where this goes. We’re replacing some things to try and make them sound natural, but we’re also leaving some things (…)  so the audience can almost exactly feel how jarring it is for a woman to say a man’s words”.

Although the reading is set out to explore the shift in power dynamics within the play by replacing the male juror with an all-female cast and, additionally, challenges the lack of great female roles in the majority of plays, as Rebecca points out, it does not have an explicit feminist agenda. “I think there has been a very exciting and fantastic growth of feminism in the last like two years”, says Katie, so for “students who are in this kind of environment of feminism, this might be a way in for thinking about issues and start to explore them” whilst Rebecca adds: “It’s quite interesting for people who don’t consciously identify with feminism at the moment, and we’re not setting out to put this on to ‘convert’ people, but because we think it’s interesting and we think it will be a great discussion”.

And with a Q&A session planned after the show on Monday evening, Twelve Angry Women is certain to kick off a debate around gendered language, women in theatre and feminism in general that will invite the audience into an on-going and much needed discussion around gender equality.

Monday, 3rd February (with Q&A afterwards) & Tuesday, 4th February (3rd week), Oxford Union, free entry; show starts at 8.30pm, but guests are welcome to join cast and crew for some music by all female artists from 8pm; the donations collected during the evenings will go to the Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre.