REVIEW: The Verdict, Middle Ground Theatre Company

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The Verdict, Middle Ground Theatre Company, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham, 23rd February and touring

THE theatricality of the courtroom has always had strong public appeal. The tense struggle to win a case before a judge and jury makes exceptionally good drama. The list of films, television programmes and productions on stage depicting judicial contests of one kind or another is prodigious.

And those that have a “David and Goliath” element to them are especially popular: the ordinary, perhaps impoverished, person taking on the wealthy and powerful organisation – and winning against all the odds – has a particularly strong hold on the public imagination.

It is therefore not surprising that a play about a working class family seeking compensation for gross clinical negligence – and coming up against the full force of a medical establishment that’s closed ranks and can afford a battalion of expensive lawyers – has all the potential in the world to garner the sympathy of the vas

Bidford-based actress Karen Drury

t majority of people. The point is made even more effectively when the family’s own lawyer is a washed up attorney with a drink problem who is using this case in a bid to rehabilitate himself.

The play is called The Verdict, based on a novel by the American author Barry Reed. It originally gained international recognition when it was made into a Hollywood film in 1982 that was directed by Sidney Lumet and starred Paul Newman, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling and Milo O’Shea. It is now doing the rounds as a world premiere adaptation for the stage by the Middle Ground Theatre Company of Malvern in Worcestershire.

The play is being put on at various locations throughout the British Isles over the next few months and among its cast is the Bidford-based actress Karen Drury, formerly a star of the Channel 4 soap opera Brookside. From 19thto 23rd February the venue for The Verdict was the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. Future venues include Oldham, Winchester, Jersey, Blackpool, Dublin and Edinburgh.

The demanding role of Frank Galvin, the lawyer hired to press the case for compensation when a young woman was left brain damaged during a hospital childbirth operation, is played by Ian Kelsey. He is immensely convincing in the role of the lawyer down on his luck but controversially too proud and obstinate to accept an out-of-court settlement of $300,000. He insists – despite enormous pressure to take the money on behalf of his clients – on going to court and seeking compensation of $5 million.

The Verdict is set in Boston, Massachusetts, and therefore requires American accents on the part of most of the actors. (Being Boston, there are also a few Irish accents as well!) The facility with which they accomplished the feat of speaking “American” is quite admirable. In the case of Karen Drury, playing the part of Mary Rooney, the hospital’s head nurse, the accent adopted is specifically New York – but not Brooklyn!

There are strong performances in this production, but enormous credit must go to Michael Lunney, who not only directs and designs it, but also plays the part of one of the doctors facing the accusation of malpractice. Special mention should also be made of Anne Kavanagh, whose role as the distraught mother of the brain-damaged woman was especially effective. Her despair was palpable.

The key to the production’s success is the tension it builds and the sympathy it evokes for the plaintiffs in the case. On the evening I attended the audience was utterly absorbed by what was happening on stage.

The Middle Ground Theatre Company was founded in 1988 and has a vast portfolio of productions under its belt. The West Midlands is lucky to have a professional drama undertaking of such quality within its geographical boundaries.

The company can be located online at: www.middlegroundtheatre.co.uk