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A CurtainUp London Review
The central figure of Inadmissible Evidence is Bill Maitland (Douglas Hodge), a seedy London solicitor specialising in divorce and some criminal work. But his work ethic is not the underlining characteristic of Maitland. It is his persistent womanising and the terrible way in which he treats his family and his staff. Even by 1964 standards the sexism and philandering Maitland doles out to his female secretaries —, pinching their bottoms, telling them to wear lipstick and having sexual affairs with them— is despicable.
The play opens with a dreamlike court scene where as Maitland, a portly Douglas Hodge in loud striped suit with the red points of a handkerchief peeking out from his breast pocket, is defending himself in court against charges of mediocrity. A piece of tissue with a small bloodstain is stuck to his cheek where he has ineptly cut himself shaving. The judge sits atop on a chair on a table and the defence counsel, a wigged barrister is dismissed by the defendant.
There is much hand wringing, bowing and fidgeting as Maitland apologises and tells us that he doesnít know why he took up the law in the first place. He tells us how much he resents the competition, those with "effortless voice production" who went to Oxford colleges and go to the opera. As he says this he uses the clipped tones associated with an upper class accent. Then the court is whisked away and we are into Maitlandís reality, his crummy solicitorís office.
Douglas Hodgeís performance is an acting tour de force. He retains the humanity of his character as it becomes apparent that his greatest critic is himself and his greatest fear is of being alone. No-one escapes his vulgar and caustic wit. But he can also manipulate and whine about his misfortunes. Maitland suffers from persistent, neurotic headaches and is always forgetting where he put his pills. He knocks back whisky to self medicate. "Blondes are like plague carriers for me," he complains about his own sexual promiscuity. He abuses his staff until they threaten to leave.
Maitland's right hand man, Wally Hudson (Daniel Ryan), is courted by a rival firm and has little reason to stay with his bullying boss. Jones (Al Weaver) his articled clerk is treated even more poorly. In one scene Maitland flicks paper at Jones using an elastic band as a makeshift catapult so Jones has to dodge the missiles while taking instruction. Secretaries Shirley (Karen Gillan) and Joy (Amy Morgan) will be used for dalliance on business trips when Maitland needs a bed warmer.
Soutra Gilmourís incredibly detailed set is a scruffy office tip with piles of discarded books and pink ribboned briefs. Behind the solid old fashioned furniture is misted over, dirty glass, through which we can see the other staff crammed into what is really a corridor and hear the telephones ringing.
In the last act Maitland, having spent the night in the office has several visitors. Three are women, divorcing clients who, underlining the monotony for Maitland, merge into the same person and are played by the same actress with no change of clothing. One, Mr Maples (Al Weaver) is a man accused of a homosexual offence. But it is Maitlandís daughter Jane (Alice Sanders) who gets a diatribe from her father while she sits in complete silence. She is the child of the 1960s, the future generation and he complains about her appearance saying her uncombed hair makes her look like a Yorkshire Terrier caught in the Monsoon. There is no connection between father and daughter. In real life Osborne threw his wife Penelope Gilliatís 17 year old daughter out of their house. When Maitlandís long term mistress Liz (Esther Hall) comes in, she is forgiving and loving towards him but she too will leave him.
Now I havenít seen Inadmissible Evidence before, but others who have tell me they do not recall this play being so funny or played as a comedy. Certainly the first act is very amusing as the outrageous Maitland, in what is almost a monologue of self loathing, condemns himself out of his own mouth. If Jimmy Porter is Osborneís Angry Young Man, Bill Maitland is the victim of his own uncontrolled damaging desires and capricious mind in middle years. He describes his own brain as being like "a film run at the wrong speed." The breakdown Bill Maitland fears became a reality for Osborne when two years after the premiere of Inadmissible Evidence he went into hospital with a nervous breakdown and his once happy third marriage to Penelope Gilliat was over.
Inadmissible Evidence in the capable hands of Jamie Lloyd has been cut from its over three hour length to less than two and a half. Douglas Hodge is quite simply superb as this man who can see but cannot stop his own self destruction. Do not miss this brilliant performance!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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