THE phrase “jumping in the deep end’ comes to mind when looking at Margaret Hobbs, the author of the script for this stage adaption of Barry Reed’s 1980 novel The Verdict.
It is said that we all have at least one book or play within us, and, fully believing this, Margaret Hobbs tried hard for some years to no avail, to convince a publisher of this fact. Then in 2015, Middle Ground’s artistic director Michael Lunney suggested she read and adapt The Verdict for the stage.
Despite the fact that a very successful film version, with a script by award-winning author David Mamet, was already in existence, Margaret unhesitatingly took on the task, coming up with a script that transfers the story to the stage in a very acceptable manner. Proving to be a true friend, Michael Lunney not only staged the play but also designed excellent and realistic-looking sets, which on this tour he uses to good effect. Just to add further support, he also stylishly plays the philosophical barman Eugene and and careless senior anaesthetist Dr Crowley.
It is Dr Crawley, along with the surgeon Rexford Towler, an arrogant self-centred individual in the hands of Jason Wilson, who are accused of medical malpractice which led to a young woman being left as a human vegetable following surgery after successfully becoming a mother. The girl’s mother, Mrs McDaid, a quietly passionate poor working woman portrayed by Sarah Shelton, seeks justice and some compensation in order to help take care of the family and brings her case to the run-down, ambulance chasing lawyer Frank Galvin, who is struggling with his own demons – a drink problem and broken marriage.
To everyone’s surprise, after seeing the girl in hospital, and instead of accepting what, on the face of it, appears to be a generous offer from the Catholic church which runs the hospital, Galvin decides to risk what is left of his once-promising career by taking on the Catholic church, the hospital authority, a powerful law firm and prejudiced judiciary and go for life changing damages.
The role of Galvin is the sort that actors dream about, but rarely have the opportunity to play. Jason Merrells, who despite a long CV in the theatre, including another courtroom drama, Twelve Angry Men, is better known for his numerous roles on TV, including Happy Valley, Agatha Raisin, Emmerdale and Waterloo Road, is the lucky man on whom the mantle of Frank Galvin falls on this tour. Like the production as a whole, he takes a little while to warm to his task, but surrounded by a phalanx of good support he is well in charge of the character long before those eye-catching big speeches delivered on behalf of his client and justice in court.
Foremost amongst those supports are Vincent Pirillo as Frank’s mentor and ailing elderly Jewish partner Mo Katz, and Okon Jones’s black, paid for, but completely honest, medical expert Lionel Thompson. Between them this pair make perfect targets to illustrate the inbred prejudice of Richard Walsh’s red-neck judge Eldredge Sweeny, bending over backwards to accommodate Nigel Barber’s establishment defence counsel J Edgar Concannon – a man quite prepared to use bribes and bullying tactics to win his case.
Caught between the two sides is Donna St Laurent. Reanne Farley has to live off theatrical straw scraps to create this shadowy character.
This production of The Verdict can be seen at Salisbury Playhouse from 9th to 13th May and the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, from 18th to 22d June.