Writer: Barry Reed
Adapted for stage by Margaret May Hobbs
Director and Designer: Michael Lunney
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Reputedly “The best courtroom drama novel in years” when it was published in 1980, Margaret May Hobbs’ adaptation of Barry Reed’s crime novel The Verdict is staged for the first time by the Middle Ground Theatre Company. On the whole, this world premiere doesn’t disappoint. However, one might question whether the opening, which might best be described as a novel form of foreplay and takes place before the theatre lights are dimmed, rather should be seen as an integral part.
Adapting a novel for the stage is not an easy task at any time, and is even more difficult when it as a novel that is part of a crime series. Hobbs rises to the challenge admirably, but in doing so falls back on slipping in bits of informative dialogue in which at times stand out like a sore thumb. “Show, not tell” is entirely possible on the page, less so on stage but not insurmountable.
Set in Boston in the 1980s, with Irish connotations aided and abetted by the musical director Lynette Webster’s choice of music, the plot is convoluted. Frank Galvin, played by Clive Mantle, is a 50-year-old lawyer, alcoholic and desperate for a brief to bring in a bit of cash. Nevertheless, when he is offered serious money to settle out of court in an open and shut case of malpractice in the medical establishment which also involves the Catholic Church, he turns it down. His reason for doing so – a young mother has been left in a vegetive state, unable to move or speak, eat or drink, after suffering a cardiac arrest under anaesthetic during childbirth in hospital. Galvin is convinced that there has been negligence. The state of the young woman Debbie Rosen is heart-rending. Galvin is determined to prove that the evidence offered, despite seeming watertight, is incorrect: in other words, there has been a cover-up. Is he right?
The leading role of the dissolute lawyer with a social conscience requires skill from the actor on many fronts, not least of these to be plausible enough to convince the jury (the audience is the jury, a clever ploy by Hobbs). In the courtroom drama climax, as the defence and prosecuting lawyers battle it out, Mantle has a stage presence which makes the defence believable as Galvin exchanges verbal fisticuffs with prosecuting lawyer J. Edward Concannon, a top prosecuting lawyer who will stop at nothing to win the case – strongly portrayed by Peter Harding.
As in most plays in this genre, a comedic touch is included, in this instance in the shape of Galvin’s mentor Moe Katz. Jack Shepherd skilfully avoids falling into the trap of a stereotypical portrayal of a character who happens to be Jewish, but in times underplays this role in consequence.
As you might gather from all this, the plot of The Verdict is convoluted. Not only is it good cop versus bad cop (in this instance the medics and the Church) but it flags up racism, social and class distinction and more. That Director and designer Michael Lunney’s production succeeds on most fronts is a considerable achievement and should be credited as such.
Runs until Saturday 11 February 2017 | Image: Contributed