The Verdict

Barry Reed

Middle Ground Theatre Company

Oldham Coliseum

12 March 2019 - 17 March 2019, 2hr 35min inc interval

Also Grand Theatre, Blackpool, 9-13 April 2019

The Verdict's tense courtroom scene, with Ian Kelsey as Frank Galvin. All pics: Middle Ground

The book was readable and this play is generally thoughtfully done, but the real gem of the Verdict canon is Sidney Lumet's masterful Paul Newman/James Mason/Charlotte Rampling movie version from the Eighties.

And what made that different from the other two? The Barry Reed-penned novel - adapted for this stage premiere for the admirable Middle Ground company by Margaret May Hobbs - was breathed on, heavily, courtesy of a script by none other than David Mamet. The story's emphasis was as much about washed-up lawyer Frank Galvin's last chance for redemption than it was about the medical malpractice case of a kind that has since become a staple fare of courtroom drama.

You might think swopping a 90-minute movie for a two-hour play would give plenty of scope for the story, but in fact the play becomes stage-bound without the multi-location shorthand of the movie world in which to spin its battle of wits and wills.

So Galvin (former TV soaps star Ian Kelsey) is portrayed as an alcoholic by the pouring of several glasses of booze, none of which seem to have much effect on his work or social life.

And he doesn't get the chance to show us how Frank's resolve to win his case and beat his powerful adversaries turns on his visit to see the young woman plunged into a vegetative state by the hospital run by Bishop Brophy (Richard Walsh). Here we only hear him report that he intends to fight the case, not take the settlement.

The Bishop and his doctors (Michael Lunney and Okon Jones} say they did everything they could - but Frank discovers they might not be telling the truth. WiIl he be allowed to prove it in court? Can big-shot opposition lawyer Concannon's (Christopher Ettridge) dirty tricks win the case before he and his mentor, Moe (Denis Lill), even get to argue it?

The play is constructed is a fairly conventional way, setting out the ground in the first act and running the case, with its revelations and setbacks, after the interval. Michael Lunney's direction is entertaining enough, but generally it all seems a lot less exciting than it should.

And I know the story is steeped in Boston Irish temperament and spirit, but whoever chose the incidental music - mostly melancholic Irish folk ballads - really needs to learn how to choose music to set a mood, since the one set here is far from the story's high-stakes excitement...

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