Written by Barry Reed
Directed & Designed by Michael Lunney
Adaptation by Margaret May Hobbs
A legal drama can be a viscerally intense piece of theatre. We adore mystery, and the courtroom thriller has long been a continually popular narrative. Adapted from the 1982 Academy Award-nominated film, and based on Barry Reed’s novel of the same name, The Verdict centres around an attempt by attorney-at-law Frank Galvin (Ian Kelsey) to bring a case of medical malpractice against a church-funded hospital.
Set in two halves – one as Galvin and mentor Moe Katz (Denis Lill) gather evidence amidst pub visits, the other in the courtroom itself – it has the potential to be calculating and captivating. It only partially succeeds.
Tackling elements such as medical negligence and vegetative patient states, while using extensive legal jargon, humour is the tool that keeps an audience from turning. When utilised correctly, it can have positive effects, even heightening the painful emotions. When executed poorly it can be distasteful, and the audience will laugh, quite a lot… which feels dangerously uncouth for this production.
Kelsey is at his finest when riding on tension, explosions of frustration and direct confrontation. As we come to know the character of Galvin, there is much to uncover, but his history is only hinted at, drawn out for an emotional closing argument. Evidently, the gruff, mysterious, merely flawed human attorney is a reliable trope.
Michael Lunney’s design is similar to his direction – capable but overstretching. The offices of the defending counsel are constructed with ‘legion of doom’-style portraits, not even attempting to portray the defendants and hospital as any less than vaudeville villains.
Direction through delivery feels more at home in melodrama. Those in the law profession are often drawn in parallel to actors – they both have a story to tell, with an audience to convince – but this treatment feels a little too close for comfort. Whilst entertaining, it crosses into hammy delivery from most performers, with the audience acting as jurors – too often we are addressed as in a comedy skit, a wink or nudge not too far off.
What The Verdict delivers is a guilty plea of its own worries in estranging an audience. Its attempts to be accommodating by pushing levity into heavy subject matter dampens the intensity. Where there should be gravitas, there are laughs. Where there should be powerful moments, there are more laughs…
Review originally published for The Skinny:
Production touring, tickets available: