Clive Mantle gives a towering performance in this simmering play. His portrayal of a washed up and hollowed-out Boston lawyer who drinks too much whiskey and charms one barmaid too many is amongst the best examples of naturalistic acting I’ve ever seen at Theatre Severn. He’s not just playing 59-year-old Frank Galvin, he actually inhabits his psyche and his skin. Being a drunkard on stage is never easy, but Mantle’s mannerisms are so beautifully observed and so expertly delivered I could almost smell the bourbon in row J.
And yet his character can still cut it in the court room. Handed one last case in the twilight of his career, he could just simply take a generous out of court settlement and retire gracefully. It’s a tempting offer (and Mantle revels in it) but then his character makes one mistake. He goes to see the client.
She never appears in the play because she’s been left in a vegetative state by a medical misdemeanour. But the sight of her must be pitiful because Galvin tears up the cheque and takes on the hospital, which just happens to be run by the mighty Catholic Church. And so he gets his dubious day in court.
Barry Reed’s story is surprisingly simple, as is the court case he constructs, which hinges on just one piece of evidence. But the back stories and moral (or even immoral) dilemmas turn it into a pretty gripping piece of theatre.
The book was filmed in 1982 by Sidney Lumet who cast Paul Newman, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling and (movies buffs take note) an uncredited Bruce Willis in a non-speaking part. Middle Ground’s stage production is equally well cast with Jack Shepherd and Peter Harding giving Mantle terrific support…and debutante Cassie Bancroft as the all-too-smart, tight-dressed temptress.
Margaret May Hobb’s adaptation utilises a gamut of clever theatrical techniques. The stage is split so the action can swing with ease from Frank’s office to his favourite bar. We hear the soundtrack of the operating theatre tragedy and eves drop on crucial phone calls. We see the defence rehearse their witnesses. And we share Galvin’s private despair when his key expert is nobbled. We also observe unresolved cutaway scenes which ramp up the “will-he – won’t he” scenario; and dwell upon the bigger issue of what devastating damage would be done to the other patients if the hospital was defeated.
It’s a well thought out, intelligently written, cleverly produced and directed, and exceptionally well-acted play. In short, everything a good piece of theatre should be.
What caps it all is the fact that in Act 2 we, the audience, become the jury. The case is addressed directly to us and we become personally involved. Director Michael Lunney doesn’t quite go as far as to let us deliver a judgement (presumably in case we’re feeling a bit bolshie one night) but I know what my verdict would have been.
Mantle, meanwhile, is simply majestic. Go and see him at his best.
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