Review: The Verdict (Floral Pavilion, New Brighton)

The Verdict is an enjoyable courtroom thriller, reminiscent of those American films which pop up regularly on our television screens: films like Twelve Angry Men – that was on just a couple of days ago, and it’s still great – Jagged Edge, Presumed Innocent and…well, The Verdict, which began life as a novel and was then a 1982 Oscar nominated movie, starring Paul Newman as a hardboiled, ambulance chasing Boston lawyer whose career is on the skids.

For this brand new stage adaptation it’s Clive Mantle (Dr Barratt in Casualty and Holby City) who takes on the role of hard drinking attorney Frank Galvin. And very good he is too, capturing both the cynical world weariness of the character and his underlying moral decency. Galvin takes a case which offers him a big payout but, more importantly, the chance of spiritual redemption. It’s a medical malpractice suit, brought on behalf of a woman who’s been left in a permanent vegetative state after going into hospital to have a baby. The truth about what happened has been covered up but Galvin is determined to find out who was responsible, rejecting a tempting out of court settlement in order to pursue his quest for justice. He’s helped by his former mentor, veteran lawyer Moe Katz, excellently played by that veteran actor Jack Shepherd.

Opposing them are Peter Harding as the fearsome attorney J Edward Concannon (who’s never lost a case), an unsympathetic judge (Michael Lunney) and Richard Walsh’s Machiavellian bishop (the Catholic church own the hospital where the incident occurred). The gladiatorial contest plays out on stage in a skilfully recreated wood panelled courtroom (having the lawyers occasionally address the audience as if we were the jury is a nice touch). Margaret May Hobbs’s script takes us on an eventful journey, as we follow the absorbing twists and turns of the case and weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of the legal arguments.

Away from the case, Frank continues to battle his demons and tentatively embarks on a romantic relationship with Cassie Bancroft’s waitress Donna (cue more surprising plot developments). He’s usually in his ramshackle office or the welcoming surroundings of Meehan’s Bar, a Boston watering hole that might remind you a little of the one in Cheers – settings that contrast nicely with the austere, tension-filled courtroom. In fact the first half of the play is arguably stronger than the second, which is dominated by the trial itself. The court proceedings certainly have their moments of high drama, but one or two of the key revelations and turning points don’t have quite as much impact as they perhaps should.

But the play is consummately performed, and it was good to see the Floral Pavilion packed to the rafters for the first night. Middle Ground Theatre Company, whose thrillers and whodunnits have featured at the Floral for several years, are already planning an adaptation of the Ruth Rendell novel Gallowglass for next year. Gallowglass…now didn’t I see a TV version of that once?

*** Superbly acted courtroom drama

The Verdict continues at the Floral Pavilion, New Brighton until Saturday 4 March 2017. For more information, click HERE.