Writer: Barry Reed
Adaptor: Margaret May Hobbs
Director: Michael Lunney
Reviewer: Edie Ranvier
1980s novel and film The Verdict takes on a new life as a stage production this week at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre, adapted from Barry Reed’s book and David Mamet’s film script by Margaret May Hobbs. Though, perhaps, it would be more appropriate to call it a new half-life: despite the efforts of a cast spangled with TV favourites, it’s a storyline that can’t help but show its age.
Ian Kelsey, a familiar face to devotees of Doctors and Casualty, vaults to the other side of the professional fence as good-hearted Boston attorney Frank Galvin, suing a Catholic hospital for a case of medical malpractice that has left a young mother in a vegetative state. His Galvin is broadly likeable and dilutedly funny, but not especially convincing: in particular his sudden heartfelt interest in a case he’d previously been dodging, on the strength of a most reluctant visit to the victim in hospital, feels contrived.
He isn’t helped in his attempts at plausibility by the doom-laden backstory with which Reed has saddled his character, an overcooked tragedy that makes a cheap play for audience sympathy without being convincingly interwoven with the persona of the Galvin we see before us. And of course, even if you accept Galvin as a hero, he’s very much a hero of his time. The Verdict is nearly 40 years old, and it shows: in a post-#MeToo era, it’s hard to muster much sympathy for a married bloke in his fifties perving on a woman half his age when she turns out (surprise, surprise) to be a honey trap in the pay of his dastardly opponents.
Josephine Rogers as said honey trap is beautiful, amenable, treacherous and not much besides, just as the script would have her be. In fact, none of the women in the production are given much to work with, in terms of character, and it’s hard to know whether to blame the original script, Hobbs’ adaptation or the actors themselves. Karen Drury as head nurse Mary Rooney starts out prim and fiercely loyal to her doctors, then undergoes a change of heart about as convincing as Galvin’s newfound commitment to the case, and agrees to help the plaintiffs. And Anne Kavanagh, as Mrs McDaid, gets stuck with the tiredest of stereotypes as victim Debbie’s put-upon ultra-Catholic Irish mother, to the point of exclaiming “Holy Mother of God!” when she’s awarded her damages (no, really).
Denis Lill as Galvin’s ageing partner in ambulance-chasing, Moe Katz, is another stereotype, but at least an intermittently funny one. Okon Jones does fine as Lionel Thompson MD, the doctor who agrees to help out as Galvin’s expert witness, but again assumptions have (thankfully) changed so much since the time of the original novel that it’s hard to enter into the extra difficulties the attorneys seem to find inherent in hiring a black expert witness; and this adaptation makes no attempt to update them or put them in context.
The main power of the piece is in the courtroom scenes – in the first half as dapper super-attorney J. Edgar Concannon (Christopher Ettridge) rehearses his witnesses for the defence (“Call her ‘Debbie’”, he creepily tips off the accused doctors in an attempt to win jury sympathy), and in the second half with the trial itself. The opening statements, cross-examination of witnesses, back-and-forth with the biased judge (Richard Walsh) and summings-up capture some of the innate drama of a legal proceeding – though even the big reveal in the witness evidence feels disappointingly contrived and simplistic: this is no Legally Blonde, alas.
Overall, it’s a decent stab at reviving the piece. But this once-good story is now so markedly of its time that one wonders whether it’s worth the effort.
Runs until 4 May 2019 | Image: Contributed