The Verdict

Barry Reed
The Middle Ground Theatre Company Ltd
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Clive Mantle and Jack Shepherd as Frank Galvin and Moe Katz
Clive Mantle and Jack Shepherd

November 1980 and it had already been a long night’s work for the doctors and nurses at St Catherine Labour Hospital in Boston when, at 4:58AM, a young woman in labour was admitted.

She was expecting her third child and no complications were expected but, under anaesthetic, she suffered a cardiac arrest long enough to produce brain damage and would remain in a coma for the rest of her life. The doctors insisted they had done their very best to save her and lawyer Frank Galvin is pleased that he had managed to gain $300,000 from the Catholic Church—that is until, at the insistence of the girl’s mother, he goes to see her.

The sight of the girl, and the thought that it will take a lot more than the amount offered to support her for the rest of her life, spurs him on to investigate further into the case. After all, as he points out to the Bishop, the Church has many valuable assets, but with further compensation refused, and suspecting some medical malpractice, he decides to fight it out in court.

We meet Frank in his office, doing his best to keep the whisky producers in business, and obviously no longer at the top of his game. Is this the man who will come up against the expensive lawyers the Church can afford—and win?

There is a huge cast of sixteen in this production and, if some of the American accents slip a little, they are hardly noticed, being totally overshadowed by the tremendous performance from Clive Mantle as Frank. From his state of inebriated depression to his rather unlikely sexual liaison with a young waitress and on to his commanding presence in court, he nails every facet of the character perfectly.

He is matched in performance, although in a quieter manner, by Jack Shepherd as his mentor Moe Katz (reminding me rather of Woody Allen in his delivery of a slightly hypochondriacal Jew) trying to persuade Frank that he is attempting the impossible.

We see the build-up to the court case—the anguish of the mother with bills to pay, the arrogance of a doctor who insists he is in the right, the judge being unsympathetic and a key witness for the defence mysteriously being unavailable just before the trial.

Most interesting, and a little alarming, is the way the witnesses are coached in the manner of giving their evidence to win support from the jury, here by a very domineering and confident Peter Harding as J Edward Concannon, the attorney for the defence. Author Barry Reed was also a lawyer specialising in cases of medical malpractice, so he knows what he is talking about.

The very well set up split set of lawyer’s office and bar/cafe, interspersed at one point by the judge at breakfast, is superseded by a very elaborate and extensive courtroom where the dramatic element really gets going.

There is a little light relief in the proceedings in the manner in which a new witness (Veronica Quilligan as Mary Rooney) witness gives her evidence and some amusing comments between Frank and Judge (Eldredge Sweeney) whose final comment amused me. The instructions to the jury should be “long enough to cover the subject and short enough to be interesting”. I felt that could possibly be applied to act I.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor