Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
It’s no trial watching this stage version of the classic film The Verdict at the King’s. In fact, it’s a real pleasure seeing washed-up Boston lawyer Frank Galvin get his mojo back as he takes on a case of alleged medical malpractice.
We meet Frank pottering around his office one morning, getting dressed, shuffling papers, having a drink. He does like a drink, does Frank. His law practice amounting to little more than ambulance chasing, his marriage in tatters, he finds solace in his ever-present bottle of whisky.
But he bucks up when current client Mrs Rooney arrives, making the effort to look less dishevelled, hiding the booze. It seems he’s keeping up appearances but it soon becomes obvious that Frank genuinely cares about giving his best to the distressed mother of Debbie, who’s been in a vegetative state for years following a catastrophic birth.
Mrs Rooney is suing the Catholic-owned hospital she believes was negligent, causing brain damage – a decent lump sum would help pay ongoing medical bills, perhaps allow her for-all-intents-and-purposes orphaned grandchildren to live with her full time rather than be sent from relative to relative.
When the local bishop calls on Frank with a settlement cheque for $300,000, along with an offer to join his personal legal team, it’s like all Frank’s Christmases have come at once.
But Frank knows he’s being bought off, to make the embarrassing case go away – and eventually, his better side prevails. His youthful idealism back, he vows to fight for a bigger lump sum for Debbie and her family, speak up for truth and justice. He’ll take on the biggest law firm in the state, he’ll stand up against the power of the Catholic Church, and win. Well, that’s the idea…
Ian Kelsey is a well-known TV face, a veteran of Emmerdale, Doctors and more, able to put bums on seats. His performance in The Verdict reminds us that the reason he’s on telly so much isn’t due to his leading man looks – he’s a superb actor.
From the minute he appears on stage, before the lights go down and Act One officially kicks off, he’s silently telling us a lot about Frank. The way he moves, dresses, drinks… this is a man worn down by life, a guy who’s numbing himself to pain. Kelsey shows him regaining his spark, not in a Eureka moment but across a series of scenes.
By the time the action hits the courtroom, Frank’s on fire, able to face not just the best defence lawyer around, but a monstrous judge who wants to see him disbarred.
Denis Lill, another small screen veteran – name any Seventies TV programme this side of The Clangers and he was probably on it – is wonderful as Frank’s mentor and former partner, Moe Katz. Dragged out of retirement to help Frank on a case he doesn’t believe they can win, Moe is the archetype wisecracking American Jew but, as essayed by Lill, never a stereotype.
As Judge Sweeney, Richard Walsh has a ball, running his courtroom with the proverbial rod of iron, while Christopher Ettridge is suitably slimy as opposing lawyer J Edgar Concannon, fighting not just Frank but a truly horrible flared trousers suit.
Christopher Ettridge, Richard Walsh and Ian Kelsey. Pic: Middle Ground Theatre Company Ltd
Josephine Rogers is vulnerably attractive as Donna, the new waitress at Frank’s favourite bar, while Okon Jones is terrific as the expert witness for hire – self-righteously cocky, unashamed that he’s being paid to give an opinion on a case about which he has no direct knowledge. And Holly Jackson Walters as nurse Natalie Stampanatto gives a beautifully observed performance, touching and real – hopefully we’ll see her back on the Edinburgh stage soon, in the bigger role she deserves.
One of these characters elicits mild booing from audience members apparently not recovered from this year’s award-winning King’s panto, but the moment doesn’t derail the drama. What we could do without, though, is the corny music that rises as the verdict is delivered – it’s far too melodramatic, unnecessary in a drama that’s working so well. Rather than heighten the tension, it risks breaking it in two.
But the integrity survives, a testament to the talent and application of the actors, working with a cracking script by Margaret May Hobbs from Barry Reed’s 1982 film story. Director Michael Lunney wrings all the drama and humour out of said script, with the duelling lawyers’ direct addresses to the jury – that would be us – effective and affecting. A few of the lines don’t quite project the way they should, as characters move to the back of the stage, but hopefully this will be noted and tweaked.
This production is a good half hour longer than most touring dramas but you likely won’t notice because ‘good’ is an understatement – it’s a great half hour, in an all-round great show.
The Verdict? Guilty of engrossing entertainment in a public place.
Running time: Two hours and forty minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Tuesday 30 April – Saturday 4 May 2019
Evenings: 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed & Sat: 2.30 pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
The Verdict on tour:
30 April – 4 May 2019
0131 529 6000
7 – 11 May 2019
21 – 25 May 2019
Holly Jackson Walters. Pic: Middle Ground Theatre Company Ltd