Venue: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Performance Run: Tue 2 - Sat 6 May 2017

Performance Reviewed: Tue 2 May 2017 (Press Night)

There’s often a tendency with courtroom dramas on the stage to ratchet up the drama and crank up the incredulity to Hollywood-rivalling extremes. Some may argue it is a necessity of the medium; where film allows for the cunning of the edit or the reductive power of the close-up, in theatre the old adage of throwing it out to the back row often finds itself ringing true.

Mercifully, this does not hold true for The Verdict. Somewhat ironically, given it's own Hollywood origins. Sure, it’s central character, Clive Mantle’s Frank Galvin, is brash, oft-shouty and occasionally potty-mouthed, with a taste for drink that may stem back to childhood traumas, but as with the play that surrounds him, there is nuance and depth here to spare.

The same can be said of the central case being tried, too. Packing plenty of moral and ethical quandaries, and not being as instantly clear-cut as, say, a murder, The Verdict pivots around the trials (quite literally) and tribulations of a medical malpractice lawsuit being lain at the door of a Massachusetts hospital which saw a potentially botched birth delivery result in a young woman slipping into a coma from which she never recovered.

Did the doctors do all they could? Should we even be throwing lawsuits at people who work tirelessly and heroically to save lives? Was there known wrongdoing and actual malpractice?

They are questions which The Verdict gradually introduces, then lets stew in the minds and hearts of its audience, and is all the more involving for not bludgeoning us round the head with them.

A play of two distinct halves, Verdict’s first Act sets up the key players, fleshes out the case and throws in the obligatory personal drama and subplots for Galvin in particular, whilst Act 2 is concerned mostly with the case playing itself out in court. 

Where some may find the exploratory first Act slow-burning, the rich character and narrative work done here are superb, and as mentioned, the central dilemmas are subtly and systematically entered into the fold.

With that being said, it is clear throughout we are supposed to side with Galvin and the prosecution; Nuala Walsh’s despairing mother of the victim is one of the first characters we meet, and the vaguely questionable spectre of the church attempting to settle out of court in the form of Richard Walsh’s Bishop Brophy raises flags and sets off alarms early on. Still, there is something to be said that even in the midst of the Act 2 courtroom fireworks, lingering questions of fairness and the ethics of putting doctors who clearly tried to save the girls life under such scrutiny still bubble up.

And even when we are treated to the gripping courtroom battle between Galvin, defence attorney Concannon (Peter Harding) and a potentially partisan judge (Richard Walsh again, in dual-role duties), the show is never overly sensationalist or melodramatic. Yes, there are the customary twists and turns and plenty of reversals of fortune for better and worse, but as with the production as a whole, it feels real, authentic. Lived in. Consequential.

Of course, much of this is down to the exceptional collection of performances. By some measure one of the finest acted productions in recent memory, The Verdict boasts a truly enviable line-up of talent. Mantle is superb as Galvin, a riveting and bombastic performance that charts the characters highs and lows effortlessly. Jack Shepherd is equally brilliant as Galvin’s mentor and right-hand-man Moe, a wonderfully observed and detailed performance that bounces off of Mantle’s with relish. Shepherd has always given great character work, and this is no exception. 

Peter Harding is a forceful presence as defence attorney Concannon, lending an air of gravitas and credibility that cements him as a worthy opponent. Elsewhere, Cassie Bancroft has a lot to do with comparatively limited stage time, and pulls off her complicated Donna impressively.

In fairness, though, the ensemble has nothing in the way of weak links; it’s a resolutely superlative cast that elevate an already compelling piece into something even bolder. 

Thoughtful, measured, yet peppered with just enough surprises and quandaries to keep it engaging, and buoyed by a cast of dynamic, believable characters propped up by stunning performances, The Verdict is an absorbing, rich and supremely confident slice of courtroom intrigue the likes of which we sadly do not see enough of.

And that may be the biggest stage crime of all.

RATING - ★★★★

Tickets: 01902 429 212  / Official Website: click