The Verdict – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writer: Margaret May Hobbs from the book by Barry Reed

Director: Michael Lunney

Reviewer: James Garrington

Although originally written as a book, The Verdict is perhaps best known as a film starring Paul Newman and James Mason. David Mamet’s Oscar-nominated screenplay was adapted from a novel by Barry Reed – a novel which has now been adapted for the stage, this time by Margaret May Hobbs.

Frank Galvin is an alcoholic ambulance-chasing lawyer in Boston in 1980, desperate for money to pay his bills. He has a chance to redeem himself – a medical malpractice case, where a young woman has been left in a vegetative state following an incident during childbirth. Determined to get justice for the woman, Galvin turns down an out-of-court settlement and takes the case to trial, finding himself up against the might of the medical profession and Catholic Church who seem to have the Judge on their side too.

Director Michael Lunney has also designed the huge and detailed set, particularly impressive when it is transformed into the Courtroom. During the first half of the production, it needs to serve as a number of different locations though, and this creates some problems. Galvin’s office is, from necessity, set a long way upstage with the result that some of the dialogue doesn’t quite reach the back of the auditorium clearly, particularly in the first scene. It also loses that all-important connection with the audience, just at the point when it is needed to get them engaged. The stage is dominated by Eugene’s Irish Bar, an important location but needing tables and chairs – and when these items of furniture are reused for other scenes, the blackouts and transitions seem a bit clunkier and slower than would be ideal.

It’s a large cast for a touring production. Ian Kelsey takes centre stage as Frank Galvin, generally competently performed but slightly underplayed and occasionally without enough volume. Although he needs to come across as the underdog, he doesn’t seem quite forceful enough during the moments when he’s starting to come into his own. Joining him is Denis Lill in an enjoyable performance as Galvin’s friend and mentor Moe Katz, who is a reluctant helper on the case. Christopher Ettridge gives a strong performance as J. Edgar Concannon, the opposing lawyer, and Anne Kavanagh gives us a nice portrayal of Mrs McDaid, the victim’s mother. Paul Opacic is a nicely irritable Towler, one of the defendants, while his co-defendant Crowley is competently played by Michael Lunney, who also doubles as a believable Eugene the barman. Stealing the show though is Okon Jones, immensely watchable as expert witness Lionel Thompson – a relatively small part but Jones makes it his own with gusto.

The Verdict is a long play, and, initially at least, it’s a slow-burner. The action gets going when the court scene arrives, but the need to fit a whole trial into one act on stage means that it feels slightly superficial, with few witnesses answering only a handful of questions each. If you expect something that can compete with the myriad and complex twists of a John Grisham, who is possibly the master of this genre, then you may be disappointed – but nonetheless, The Verdict is enjoyable in its way, with some interesting twists for people unfamiliar with the film.

Runs Until 2 February 2019 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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  1. The Verdict – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry is the best play I have seen in a very long time. Great story very well put together and acted exultantly. A must see for any theatre lover.

  2. I agree that this was the best play I’ve seen in a very long time. ‘The Verdict’ was very well acted and staged and we were captivated by the plot throughout.

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