“The Verdict” is a courtroom drama whose story presents a powerful argument in favour of human, as opposed to legal, justice. Frank Galvin is a Boston advocate whose life has fallen into alcoholic ruin after a succession of failed cases and some destructive interventions by professional rivals. He is reduced to poverty and “ambulance chasing” instead of practising law in the courts.
Offered a case where two highly respected doctors have made tragic errors resulting in their patient’s falling into a permanent coma, he finds himself responding emotionally to the patient’s mother’s plea for damages to be won for the patient’s young family. He refuses to be bought off by the hospital or their lawyers. Instead, against all odds, he fights for the truth to be exposed in court and for full damages to be awarded to the family.
There is a fine performance by Clive Mantle, as Galvin, the man rediscovering his professionalism and self-respect, especially in the second half of the play, which is almost entirely taken up with the court hearing. Jack Shepherd as Galvin’s old partner, Moe, has an agreeably light touch. The doctors who are arrogantly defending their reputations are convincingly nasty, played by Tom Roberts and Michael Lunney. The nurse who is uncomfortably aware of the way the defending lawyers are presenting their case, but stays loyal to the hospital rather than to the truth of what has happened, is played by Veronica Quilligan with a tight-lipped tension that is very effective in pointing up her moral dilemma. Nuala Walsh as the mother who is looking for reparation for her bereft daughter and grandchildren from the hospital and their unscrupulous legal team, gives a powerful performance in her fervour and her helplessness.
All the cast bring their considerable talents to bear on the play’s dramatic dialogue, and the second act is absorbing. Nevertheless, there is a certain lack of dramatic cohesion in the play as a whole, which the excellent acting and direction of the Middle Ground Theatre Company have not managed to overcome.
“The Verdict” was originally a book, and in 1982 an Oscar-nominated film starring Paul Newman and James Mason, directed by Sidney Lumet. In this adaptation by Margaret May Hobbs of Barry Reed’s script, the constraints of the live stage have not, in my opinion, allowed the full power of the story and theme to emerge in the way that they could on the movie screen. The message of the importance of truth over expediency is, nevertheless, the same in both.