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The Verdict

Lichfield Garrick


Adapted from Sidney Lumet’s 1982 courtroom drama movie starring Paul Newman and Charlotte Rampling, Middle Ground Theatre Company’s stage version made it’s world premiere as a UK tour in 2017.

This new and slightly revised version is touring through 2023, taking with it a substantial set and a large acting ensemble. With audience confidence still a little shaky post covid, touring such a large production is a bold move. Full credit to Middle Ground for taking up the challenge and seemingly cutting no corners in the process.

On stage courtroom dramas, done well, are traditional audience pleasers. Plot twists and turns, rising tension and more than a hint of corruption are classic ingredients of the genre. It’s a world most of us know little about, which probably explains its appeal and fascination. The audience are essentially invited into the courtroom - in this case part of the jury - a clever touch, giving them a real sense of inclusivity.

There is, of course, more to it here. While Act 2 mainly focuses on the courtroom case, Act 1 introduces and builds the array of characters, outlining the events leading up to the courtroom action

Down on his luck lawyer Frank Galvin (Jason Merrells) is scratching around for any bits of work he can find, in between refilling his whisky glass and dealing with a failing marriage. Things change when a case comes his way that he can’t refuse. Motivated by a sense of what is right over an offered financial settlement that would keep the case out of court (and Frank in whiskey for the rest of his life), Galvin takes on the big boys in a quest to get justice for his client.

There are obstacles - it would be too straightforward if there weren’t. The Catholic Church aren’t too happy (and no one wants that) as they would rather hush things up. On top of that, the lawyer chosen for the defence is a certain Edgar Concannon (Nigel Barber) - a man who has never lost a case. A tough prospect indeed for Galvin but one he feels compelled to take on.

Act 1 introduces other plot strands and characters too. A new waitress in Frank’s favourite watering hole (Reanne Farley) two doctors with possible blood on their hands, (Jason Wilson and Michael Lunney), a retired ex lawyer/friend to offer advice (Vincent Pirillo), a distraught mother of the victim (Sarah Shelton), a controlling Bishop (Richard Walsh), a potential expert witness (Okon Jones) and Head Nurse with possible inside knowledge (Teresa Jennings)

Backgrounds and back stories established, Act 2 dives straight into the courtroom and stays there throughout as tensions rise and clashes emerge.

Action takes place over a divided set, moving from office to bar seamlessly and without clunky scene changes.

Jason Merrells has a lot to take on with Galvin’s path from struggling, disheveled, half-drunk lawyer to the eloquent, passionate persuader he becomes. It’s a huge part and one that needs a balance of sensitivity and authority. Despite the characters’s flaws, the audience must have sympathy with him, even warm to him. Merrells achieves all of this in a truthful, powerhouse performance.

Vincent Pirillo has a lot of the play’s lighter moments as Franks right hand man, Moe Katz and offers some stability in the chaos of Frank’s world.

A strong performance too from Nigel Barber as the Prosecuting Lawyer, Edward Concannon, exuding an effective mix of charm and menace throughout.

Richard Walsh wears two hats convincingly as Bishop Brophy and Judge Sweeney and Reanne Farley simmers as Donna St Laurent.

As plays become harder to sell amongst a diet of tribute bands and musicals, huge credit to Middle Ground for keeping the genre alive. Producer Michael Lunney not only directs, he is also acting in the play as well as designing it. If there was a theme tune, he’d probably sing it - such is his dedication to the cause.

A small gripe … it could be a little trimmed down at points. It doesn’t feel over long but there are parts of dialogue that are a little extraneous

Powerful, intense and engaging. Treat yourself and get a ticket.

Runs tto 18-02-23. 

Tom Roberts


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