The Verdict brings the American Legal Court and a medical malpractice lawsuit to the King’s Theatre Edinburgh stage for one week only (Tuesday 30th April to Saturday 4th May), and if you like your legal dramas then this is probably the one for you. If you are, however, not a big fan of this genre then you might find a legal procedural drama a bit plodding in its pace. This case and its outcome may however already be known to many (not me though) as the 1982 film, based on the book by Barry Reed, and starring Paul Newman and Charlotte Rampling was a huge success at the time.
It is an odd twist of fate that, due to our almost insatiable love affair with American films and television over the years, many of us are more familiar with American court-rooms and legal procedures than our own British legal systems, so here we are on familiar ground as our down on his luck lawyer Frank Galvin (Ian Kelsey) decides against all advice to take on the Catholic church, the most powerful legal team in the area, and the medical profession to try and prove, and win, a case of medical malpractice. With Frank all through the case is his only true friend and retired legal mentor Moe Katz (Denis Lill).
The format of the “washed up lawyer” and his old friend going after that big dream moment in court for all the right reasons is hardly a new one, but here it does allow for some solid story background and development in Act I as well as firmly establishing Frank and Moe as a double act, and a good one. Ian Kelsey gives us a solid performance as Frank, but Denis Lill always seems to be getting the sharper dialogue here and gets to steal more than a little bit of this performance. The introduction of our friendly bar-owner Eugene Meehan (Michael Lunney) who has known Frank and his family for a long time is also not a new idea, but it does work well here to give us some needed background into what is driving Frank as a person.
In theory, a court-room drama should be perfect for a stage adaptation as it requires one fixed set, and that is realistically rendered in Act II, but no matter how good the dialogue for the evidence presented, you always run into a few potential problems with the story. One problem is that once in court, everybody apart from the lawyers and the Judge becomes almost irrelevant, consigned to their short witness statements under cross-examination. The other problem is of course that there are only ever going to be two possible outcomes, so little room there for any surprises. This production does have a cast with a wealth of experience on stage, and Christopher Ettridge as lawyer J Edgar Concannon gives us a well-developed character for Frank to ”cross legal swords with” in court.
This “Verdict” being a stage production has the problems that any story like this is always going to have – a very limited amount of time and even more limited space on stage to tell a complex story with a lot of the story development taking place out of our courtroom, and this gives us a story line that at times seems a little rushed, predictable and at times implausible. One of these much needed scenes does break up our courtroom drama badly and for me breaks that “illusion” making it a little difficult to get back into the story when we do return to court.
This is an odd production for me as I actually found the story line and the characters in Act I before we get to court far more interesting than the actual legal drama. There is an element here of stereo-typed people in the roles of Bishop Brophy (Richard Walsh), Mrs McDaid (Anne Kavanagh) mother of our medical malpractice victim), but I found myself strangely drawn to both and Mrs McDaid is a very under-developed role here.
For a medical court-room drama it is a bit odd that we never really get to know our accused that well and Paul Opacic as Rexford Gilbert Towler MD gives a strong performance here but with a script that only ever lets us skim the surface of his character.
For our story, we are set in 1980 (the medical incident happened in 1976), and our design team have done a very good job here on the period details, but there is no escaping the fact that elements of this story are simply dated, and we thankfully no longer refer to human beings, no matter what their medical condition, as “vegetables”, and a little racial joke that for some reason had so many people in the audience laughing, just fell flat for me as we have moved on a long way since the 1980s in some of our view-points (well I hope we have).
The real driving question though behind this story is “what is a destroyed human life worth?” and the ugly face of humanity in the failure of those responsible to meet their liabilities is well handled here and Michael Lunney (director) and Margaret May Hobbs (stage adaptation) have done a good job here with a complex story. It is also unusual to see the fact that the American health system is a huge cost burden to many people even touched upon in any story, and I for one am glad to live in a country that for the moment still has a “free to access” medical care NHS system.
My “Verdict” on “The Verdict” - “Not Proven”
Review by Tom King