As The Verdict begins its UK Tour at Cardiff’s New Theatre, Andy Howells chats to the show’s star, Jason Merrells about the play.
Middle Ground Theatre’s presentation of the gripping courtroom thriller The Verdict returns this week for a UK Tour that commences its run in Cardiff. Following previous success in theatres across the UK and Ireland, the drama this time features prolific television and stage actor Jason Merrells as washed-up veteran lawyer, Frank Galvin.
Film fans will recall that Barry Reed’s powerful bestselling courtroom thriller inspired a 1982 multi–Academy Award-Nominated film for Paul Newman.
Jason Merrells, however, is quick to point out that the stage version of The Verdict, directed and designed by Michael Lunney and adapted by Margaret May Hobb is closer to the original book than the film. Jason explains to Andy Howells: “The Paul Newman film was written by David Mamet who has a very particular style and very much did his own version of the story. You will recognise it when you come and see the play, but in terms of line-by-line dialogue and how the play is structured this is our version and has a bit more of the novels political scope in terms of the story been about Boston as an Irish/Catholic dominated city.”
In The Verdict, Frank Galvin is presented with one last chance to redeem himself when he is given an open-and-shut medical malpractice case that no one believes he can win. Up against the unforgiving medical establishment, he courageously refuses an out of court settlement, believing it is negligence that has condemned a young mother.
“It’s a David & Goliath story,” continues Jason, “a story of personal redemption. A courtroom drama, with power, control, love, and betrayal. A lot of the things that are in the film are in our play, but slightly nuanced in a different direction.
“We’ve rooted out the story in Boston, I think the film was perhaps less forensic about that. A lot of first-generation Irish characters from the book appear in our version. Theres a lot of back and forth between Ireland and Boston as a lot of people go to work, then go back to the old country. The bars are full of people that sound Irish and not American at all.”
Jason plays lawyer Frank Galvin and while admitting he adored Paul Newman’s film portrayal, decided not to watch the film again when offered the role, allowing for his own portrayal of a complicated character.
“That’s what draws me to any character, the complications,” says Jason, “the corners that are difficult, the idiosyncrasies and the imperfections. He isn’t perfect, he’s an alcoholic, a serial philanderer. His kids are grown up, he’s not seeing them enough. He’s got to the point that he’s calling up funeral parlours to see if anyone needs any legal help, an ambulance chaser, that’s how he makes his living. This case comes across his desk and changes everything for him, he can bring back all his old skills for once to do the right thing. It’s a story of imperfect people doing a good thing.”
Jason is known to millions for his television roles in long running drama series such as Casualty, Cutting it, Waterloo Road, and Emmerdale as well as appearances in Agatha Raisin and Happy Valley. This almost didn’t happen at all as Jason could have taken the career path as an artist.
“When I was at art school, I wanted to do more with the drama group,” admits Jason, “I think, if anything, it was collaboration. The discipline of being a painter was way beyond me. The joy of working with other people was much more appealing. When you have a blank piece of paper, or a canvas, it’s hard. There was a moment before I got Casualty where I almost signed my life away with a studio in Brighton and sell paintings on the sea front. I left the studio behind, as Casualty took me in another direction.”
Jason still paints in his free time. “Wherever I’ve lived in my life I’ve always had a room, a shed or a studio and I’ve always painted,” he says.
Does Jason, who has previously appeared on stage as a member of The Royal Shakespeare Company in Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors find a big difference between working in theatre and television?
“Theatre’s very much the actor’s medium in that you’re working with the director and the writer,” he says, “but once you’re out there on stage it’s the relationship you make with the audience that’s important.
“When you’re filming the director decides how it is put together, how its shaped and your part of that and that’s wonderful too. Theatre’s obviously much less money than filming, but more fulfilling!”
“I hope the audience will be entertained, moved and enjoy a good story well told.” says Jason of The Verdict. He will be joined on stage by Richard Walsh whose previous credits include London’s Burning and River City’s Reanne Farley along with Vincent Pirillo, Nigel Barber, Jason Wilson, Okon Jones, Michael Lunney, Sarah Shelton, Teresa Jennings, Holly Jackson Walters, James Morley, Bruce Chattan, Anna Arthur and Dave Speck. “It’s a fantastic cast and very special,” concludes Jason, “I hope the people of Cardiff will enjoy it.”
- The Verdict runs at Cardiff’s New Theatre from January 24 to 28. For ticket availability visit The New Theatre website.