Inadmissible Evidence, Donmar Warehouse, London
Friday 21 October 2011
Having been the voice of the "Angry Young Man" in 1956 with Look Back in Anger, John Osborne became the megaphone of the male mid-life crisis eight years later with Inadmissible Evidence. The play is a devastating account of the meltdown of 39-year-old solicitor Bill Maitland. It opens with a Kafkaesque dream in which Maitland is in the dock for having published the "wicked, bawdy and scandalous object" that is his mediocre life. It then turns into a waking nightmare where the division between the outer reality of the office and the inside of Maitland's head is disturbingly blurred. Clients, colleagues, wife, mistress and daughter turn away from him, so that by the end, he's an almost Beckett-like image of a man left alone in the fading light with no hope.
Not seen in London for nearly 20 years, Inadmissible Evidence is revived now in a scorchingly effective production by Jamie Lloyd. A play that can last three-and-a-half hours uncut has been slimmed down to 140 minutes. But this torrential, near-monologue of lacerating self-disgust still represents a formidable challenge for the leading actor. Douglas Hodge rises to it with an extraordinary tour de force. At first, with shades of Archie Rice, his pill-popping, hard-drinking solicitor comes across like a hyperactive music-hall comic who is struggling to distract us from the void within with a manic whirlwind of silly walks and mocking impressions.
The desperation darkens after the interval. Serena Evans is superb as a trio of maritally distressed clients whose predicaments eerily mirror the mess our anti-hero has made of his life. And in the long, volcanic tirade against his 17-year-old daughter, Hodge's performance is gut-wrenching as it communicates the middle-aged envy that underlies Maitland's hatred of the offhand cool of Sixties youth and the incorrigible way in which his love-destroying rants are a measure of his profound self-contempt.
The play is all the more powerful for feeling so uncomfortably personal – not so much a postcard from the edge as a compulsive 80-page missive. It is no surprise to learn that Inadmissible Evidence proved to be predictive of the author's own crack-up two years later.
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