Review: The Verdict at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
PUBLISHED: 11:30 21 February 2019 | UPDATED: 11:30 21 February 2019
It's the 1980s. You remember! When the men were all doctors, the women were all nurses, and we were surprised to learn that bishops could be a bit dodgy. Katie Jarvis finds a court-room play about a Church-run hospital a bit of a curate's egg
(Do skip this first bit, if you’d like to. I won’t be the least offended.)
In my early 20s, I was called – my one and only time so far – for jury service. I’d never been in a crown court before, and it was awesome. (And, by the way, I’m using its formal meaning.) Daunting. Intimidating. Utterly unnerving.
I felt very small.
We, the potential jury, crept into the court room. There were more of us than would be needed (in case of objections, problems, etc); we knew that. But we all had to listen to the outline of the case.
There I was – surrounded by august history in the form of solemn wood; a rigid separation of parties; an arcane formality (by definition, un-understood by the masses) – almost certainly the youngest person there; certainly the youngest female.
Then they brought the defendant into the dock.
And – oh my gosh! – I knew her! Of all the people who could have walked in, I knew her! As my heart beat gamelan – almost so I couldn’t hear - the allegation was read out: stealing thousands of pounds from a post office she ran.
But all I could think was: “I used to work with you!”
I knew I’d have to say something. That I couldn’t be a jury member on this trial. But how would I speak in front of all these people? And, when I did, I would call her attention to me. She’d see me – this older, respected person I’d shared coffees and chats with – and she’d know that I knew. The unremitting shame for both of us!
So. Herewith the anti-climax. I wasn’t one of the people called. I left the court without her noticing me. Without having to open my mouth to articulate a truth.
(If you’ve bothered reading this, then the relevance will become clear after you’ve seen The Verdict.)
The point is: what it left me with is this. A deep respect for anybody who does speak up to tell the truth – especially an unpalatable truth – in court.
And back to The Verdict, currently at Cheltenham’s Everyman.
Here, in this adaptation of Barry Reed’s bestseller, the men are all judges, top lawyers and doctors. The women are all chickbait and nurses. And the Roman Catholic Church is evil (ish).
Ah, yes! I remember the 80s!
The plot – somewhat laboriously explained in a ponderous first half – is this. Four years previously, a 29-year-old mother, Deborah Ann, was brought into a Roman Catholic-run hospital, in labour with her third child. It was expected to be a normal delivery (though I’m slightly confused by this, as the medical details seem to indicate a more complex situation. Still, I’m no doctor); but something went horribly wrong.
Deborah Ann has been left, mouldering in a cold, dark ward, unable to eat, speak or move. Her ex-husband has remarried and wants nothing to do with his former family. Her widowed, penurious mother, Mrs McDaid, is left to bring up the children – now aged four, six and eight – in a two-roomed apartment.
So this poor god-fearing woman (a very believable Anne Kavanagh) does what we’d all do when wanting justice: she visits an alcoholic, washed-up lawyer who’s already escaped being debarred by the skin of his gum-diseased teeth.
In fact, it is a good move (of course; else the play would be much shorter). Because despite the fact that we rarely see Frank Galvin (Ian Kelsey) on stage without a drink, he only seems to get tipsy once; and – most fortunately – his drink-addled state doesn’t affect his logic or performance in the slightest. There’s hope for all us alcoholics yet.
Mrs McDaid wants justice for her daughter. Frank – moved to an unusual state of emotion after visiting Deborah Ann and seeing a tear run down her cheek – believes malpractice was to blame.
If you skipped my intro, then for similar reasons you’ll probably want to skip the first half of this play. But the second – be assured – is much more riveting. It’s conducted in the court room (scenery is terrific, by the way: from the Boston snow outside the office window, to the venerable oil-paintings of eminent (male) surgeons in the hospital scene. All designed by director Michael Lunney, who also plays a doctor. Busy chap.).
There are some excellent performances. Ian Kelsey (whose popularity set the audience atwitter) carries a huge weight, both within the play and in the play. Although he had a low-key and likeable believability, I did, at times, feel his slightly underplayed approach might have worked better on screen than on stage. Denis Lill as Moe Katz brought an utterly heart-warming humanity to the whole production. And Christopher Ettridge is a thoroughly enjoyable baddie as the defence lawyer J Edgar Concannon. Kudos, too, to Holly Jackson Walters who plays the brave-but-terrified Natalie Stampanatto.
But is that second half enough to justify bringing back a play where the men are all judges, top lawyers and doctors? Where the women are all chickbait and nurses? Does it say enough to an audience of 2019?
Spoiler alert: The Pope is a Catholic.
The Verdict is running up until Saturday, February 23. Book tickets here or by calling the Box Office on 01242 572573.