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The verdict is in: Kelsey's old-style legal hero stands the test of time


Stage presence: Ian Kelsey in ‘The Verdict’

Stage presence: Ian Kelsey in ‘The Verdict’

Stage presence: Ian Kelsey in ‘The Verdict’

Courtroom dramas are a Hollywood staple, and over the years they have given us timeless classics like 12 Angry Men, Witness for the Prosecution, A Few Good Men, and The Verdict - the stage play of which is about to make its Irish debut at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin.

The movie of The Verdict starred Paul Newman as Frank Galvin - an Irish-American alcoholic lawyer down on his luck who takes a malpractice case against a Catholic-run hospital in Boston when a young woman, Deborah Ann, has been left in a permanent vegetative state after a routine breech birth.

The case is the answer to Frank's prayers, as it looks like the pay day he so desperately needs. Boston archdiocese offers to pay compensation to keep the case out of court. Unfortunately for the archbishop and the God-like doctors who treated Debbie, Frank has developed a conscience and wants justice for her. The case proceeds to court but Frank's efforts are thwarted at every opportunity as the high-powered defence run rings around him.

In the production at the Gaiety, Frank's role is played by Ian Kelsey. For the first act the stage is split in two, with Frank's office on one side and an Irish bar on the other. There are a lot of Irish characters, themes and music in The Verdict, but audiences need to be aware that this is Boston-Irish culture. Further, this is Boston-Irish culture from four decades ago. In other words, modern Irish audiences need to park their sensibilities at the door.

Similarly, The Verdict is now very much a period piece, and needs to be treated as such. While the play is set in the early 1980s, the prevailing attitudes including sexism and racism are straight out of the 1970s.

Frank's character is also problematic for modern audiences - the drunken, macho hero who sleeps on his office floor and cheats on his wife doesn't play well with millennials. When Donna, a young attractive waitress, takes a shine to the shambolic man who downs whiskey for breakfast, it appeared preposterous to my modern mind. But Donna has her reasons.

Kelsey has enough stage presence and charisma to rise above the bluster of Frank and make him a credible character. It is to Kelsey's credit that despite Frank being anathema to modern tastes you can't help rooting for him. The pub where he drinks when he's not sleeping on his office floor, is run by Eugene, played by Michael Lunney, a busy man, as he also plays Daniel Jonathan Crowley MD, plus he also directed and designed the show. While Kelsey delivers an excellent performance, the star of the show is Denis Lill as Moe Katz, Frank's mentor, father-figure and ex-partner.

The second act takes place in the courtroom. As the trial unfolds the tension is palpable as the verdict is uncertain. There are a couple of shocks and surprises, but I'm saying nothing more.

Hollywood needs more courtroom dramas. In the meantime, get to the Gaiety.

'The Verdict' is at The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, from this Tuesday to Saturday. www.gaietytheatre.ie

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