“Asking a working writer what he feels about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs”
Inadmissible Evidence focuses in almost exclusively on Bill Maitland, a lawyer whose life is falling apart. Everyone important to him seems to be abandoning him, work colleagues, the numerous secretaries he’s sleeping with, his angsty daughter, and he exists in a bubble of self-obsessed torture and suffering – nicely realised in Soutra Gilmour’s office set that highlights his isolation – and presumably on the way to some sort of nervous breakdown. Douglas Hodge is thus never off the stage in a marathon of a performance that rarely lets up: he’s desperate to be the life of the party yet prey to numerous neuroses; unable to really connect with anyone yet constantly talking and raging at them; in this world it is all about him and so the play becomes all about him too.
Such focus on Maitland means that the rest of the ensemble have to work extremely hard to make any sort of meaningful impact in the production, Osborne’s writing not helping them a great deal. Daniel Ryan fares best as colleague Hudson, Serena Evans triples up effectively as a series of clients and Al Weaver makes a quietly moving study of his married man arrested for cottaging. But Esther Hall is completely wasted as final mistress Liz, given the merest opportunity to shine as she does extremely well here and Karen Gillan did not seem quite equal to the task as the secretary who has just had enough, coming across as flat and unresponsive, especially up against Hodge.
Perhaps part of my reaction comes from the fact that this was my first experience of Osborne’s writing and I carry no baggage with him: I’m aware of him sure, but I’ve not had the chance to make up my own mind about his work. And there’s always something that sticks in the craw about inviolable reputations, the assertions that this is ‘good’ theatre from a team of critics who often seem to singing from the same hymn sheet. I’ll continue to explore Osborne’s work for it is clear that there’s an extraordinary gift for character but that alone does not make the kind of theatre that I like; I like those characters to exist in fully realised contexts and so form connections with others and thereby creating a world in which to invest and a central protagonist whose plight we care about. For me, Inadmissible Evidence didn’t do any of those things and so despite some great work by Douglas Hodge, this was not an enjoyable afternoon in the theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 26th November