At the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
24th March, 2017
‘There is a time for living and a time for dying……It was not her time to die’
I have fond memories of the 1982 Oscar nominated Sidney Lumet film version of David Mamet’s play, ‘The Verdict’ with my childhood throb, Paul Newman in the lead role of the role of the Frank Galvin. In light of this, the Middle Ground Theatre Company set itself a tough act to follow so I make no apolodgies for this lack-lustre review.
Even before the play starts, the scene is being set with Galvin (Clive Mantle), lying on the stage floor and waking up from a boozy night as the audience fill their seats. Galvin is a Boston lawyer who has had his problems over the years – a lost job, a messy divorce, a disbarment hearing, all of them traceable in one way or another to his alcoholism.
Galvin bravely takes on a malpractice suit against a Catholic hospital in Boston where a young woman was carelessly turned into a vegetable because of a medical oversight. Nuala Walsh is the mother who is looking for reparation for her bereft daughter and grandchildren. It is the ethics of the questionable medical malpractice by the hospital hung over the heads of all involved that creates the emotional weight to the performances as the audience followed the twists and turns of the story began to unravel. Sadly, the plot grinds along and at times accents slip.
From a state of inebriated depression to the rather unlikely sexual liaison with a young waitress (Cassie Bancroft) and on to his commanding presence in court, Clive Mantle nails facets of Galvin’s character. Alongside is Jack Shepherd, as Galvin’s mentor, Moe Katz, adding to the moral crusade for the truth.
The Second Act, however, picks up pace in the courtroom drama climax where the defence and prosecuting lawyers battle it out. We the audience, act as the jury. Tom Roberts and Michael Lunney play the arrogant doctors defending their reputation. The operating room nurse (Veronica Quilligan) remains tight-lipped and therefore complicit in suppressing the truth. A new witness (Veronica Quilligan as Mary Rooney) witness gives her evidence and some amusing exchanges ensue between Frank and Judge (Eldredge Sweeney).
Finally, we meet Natalie Stampanatto, the nurse who admitted the pregnant lady in question, at this point, played by Eugenia Caruso; a striking contrast to all the brash lawyer behaviour. Despite her quiet and nervous demeanour Natalie offers up a crucial piece of evidence to support Galvin winning his case.
If all of the above reads like a legal shopping list, it is because the production delivers safely as a crowd pleaser for Middle England with its good old fashioned fully dressed stage set.
In this adaptation by Margaret May Hobbs of Barry Reed’s crime novel, the constraints of the live stage do not allow the full power of the narrative and theme to emerge in the way that was memorable on film – hence, the lack of dramatic cohesion in the play as a whole. The message of the importance of truth over expediency, however, remains the same.