The Verdict – Oldham Coliseum

No life should ever be small“. These words drive Boston attorney, Frank Galvin, to seek justice for his client, Debbie, after she is left in a coma by supposed medical malpractice, during a difficult labour. Filing a suit against St Catherine’s Hospital, professional doctors, the church, and the country’s best attorney, Frank certainly has a fight on his hands. Famously adapted into a film starring Paul Newman, Barry Reed’s The Verdict, is a compelling court-room drama, with its protagonist becoming a paragon of justice. Boston’s Atticus Finch.

Ian Kelsey’s Frank Galvin (R) fighting for justice. Christopher Ettridge plays the opposition attorney (L). Richard Walsh is Judge Eldridge Sweeney (C)

Court-room dramas are difficult to get right on stage. Predominantly dialogue based, laden with hefty exposition required to build the background of the case, they can sometimes get bogged down by facts, feeling laboured, with little physical movement or action. This is not the case for Middle Ground Theatre Company’s touring production of The Verdict. Michael Lunney’s fine direction and design, combined with a sublime lead performance by Ian Kelsey, underpin this play, ensuring it remains a tense, gripping drama.

The stage is effectively separated into two different locations, Frank’s rundown office and the local Irish bar, Meehan’s. Demonstrating precise attention to detail, an impressive, picturesque backdrop of a snowy Boston dominates the rear of the stage, windows are frosted over with ice, and the sounds of the city’s busy traffic permeate the auditorium. This is then swiftly replaced with a court room in the second act, as the climactic trial commences.

The masterful staging not only provides different locations in the play, but helps the audience emotionally invest in the protagonist, Frank. As we see him sleeping on his office floor, or struggling with alcoholism at Meehan’s bar, or witness the loneliness in his failed marriage, it becomes apparent that he is a flawed hero. This results in the audience rooting for Frank to win the court case, and resolve his problems.

The mother of Debbie, Mrs McDaid (Anne Kavanagh) confides in her attorney, Frank Galvin (Ian Kelsey).

Ian Kelsey delivers a superb performance that is heartfelt, vulnerable and honest. By exposing Frank’s compassionate, yet flawed, nature, Kelsey renders a sympathetic character, to whom the audience can fully relate. In the court scenes, he passionately performs monologues, that are profoundly powerful and sincere. Frank’s opening and closing arguments are worth the ticket price alone! It is a strong performance from Kelsey, pivotal to the entire play.

Michael Lunney brilliantly tackles the flatness of court-room dramas by ensuring that something exciting is happening on stage at all times during the trial. As a new piece of evidence is presented, the defence confer between themselves. Arguments and debates break out as Frank faces the strictest judge in the state in his fight against the establishment.

However, the true masterstroke of The Verdict is the decision to make the audience the jury. As the witnesses, and two attorneys, address all their arguments towards the audience, breaking the fourth wall, we are instantly involved and drawn into the trial. Avoiding the boredom of static court-room dramas, this play is compelling, fully engrossing the audience and allowing them to empathise with its protagonist.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

All photos taken from Oldham Coliseum’s website.

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