Based on the book by Barry Reed
Adapted for the stage by Margaret May Hobbs
Director: Michael Lunney
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Based on Barry Reed’s 1980 best-selling novel, this newly adapted version of The Verdict is the first time the story has been dramatized since the 1982 Paul Newman-starring movie. Featuring a failing, drunken lawyer finding a new lease of life crusading for a downtrodden client in a seemingly unwinnable case against the city’s biggest law firm, the story wins few points for originality. However, thanks to some neat twists (and despite at least one glaringly obvious one) this courtroom drama still delivers a healthy dose of intrigue and suspense. Middle Ground Theatre Company constantly make brave and unusual choices for their touring productions which has sometimes led to some questionable productions in the past, though here (for the most part) it has paid off. The verdict on The Verdict is generally a favourable one.
Ian Kelsey is Frank Galvin, a Boston lawyer who takes on the might of the Catholic Church as he tries to get justice for a young woman left in a vegetative state after some apparent malpractice at one of the Church’s hospitals. The role is central to the story and is by far the biggest in the play. Kelsey gives a solid and heartfelt performance and although he is consistently good throughout, he somehow lacks the ‘oomph’ to make the role truly memorable or completely engaging. In fact, the entire production suffers a similar problem, with the performances across the large cast being frustratingly inconsistent. Some of the actors are superb; Denis Lill is excellent as Galvin’s old Jewish partner Moe Katz, giving a beautifully nuanced and natural interpretation of a character that could have easily tipped into caricature. Another standout is Holly Jackson Walters who plays Natalie Stampanatto; a small but key role that she absolutely nails. Most of the rest of the cast are good although several (who shall remain nameless) display some truly atrocious acting abilities; one in particular almost completely ruining a key scene in the second act. Some ropey American accents and extremely flat off-stage line deliveries also detract from the drama which is a real shame.
Margaret May Hobbs’s adaption is rather plodding in the first act as it sets everything up but once we reach the courtroom in act two, becomes riveting. Similarly, the consistently well designed and detailed set particularly impresses once the curtain rises on the all-important courtroom setting. Michael Lunney’s direction is strong especially in injecting life into a potentially static second act; however, the pace could perhaps do with a boost as some scenes do outstay their welcome. Much of the action, particularly in the court could have been greatly improved with a little more creativity in the lighting design which sadly here is generally flat and unimaginative.
This production is not perfect, however it still comes recommended. Some strong performances, set design, direction and a pretty good script all contribute towards a strong production. What makes it so annoying is that the problems it does have could have been so easy to put right. Although, of course, that’s only this reviewer’s verdict.
Runs until 10th February 2019 | Image: Contributed