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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Donmar Warehouse


  Douglas Hodge and Daniel Ryan/ Ph: Johan Persson

After Butley, the eponymous university lecturer in Simon Gray’s recently revived play, now comes John Osborne’s lawyer Maitland – equally inebriated, just as middle-aged and no less mired in mid-life crisis. The scourge of modern man is resulting in some terrific theatre these days. 

When in 1964 Osborne wrote Inadmissible Evidence, his most personal play, he was only in his mid-30s. With Look Back in Anger (1956) well behind him, he was still probably a decade too old to play a full part in the swinging 60s with its new-fangled technology and liberal attitudes, both of which his Maitland targets with gusto, along with deference for the law. The lawyer also mercilessly targets himself by putting his selfish life of infidelity and mediocrity on trial. 

“Not guilty,” he says, a line that with Douglas Hodge in the role sounds more like a question than a declaration of innocence. In Jamie Lloyd’s electric production, Hodge’s high-octane Maitland portrays a once-vigorous man drawing on dwindling reserves of energy, whiskey and pills, as he places before the jury – the audience – his self-loathing and serial betrayals. 

Maitland’s grimy office doubles as the scene of his crimes and misdemeanours. Here he preys on the women who work for him, bullies the men, and pleas on the phone to his mistress, wife and daughter to not so much forgive but understand. For us, there is nothing to like about this man except his honesty – which is plenty.

With that classic sign of male disintegration – a bloodied tear of tissue stuck to a closely shaven cheek – Hodge launches into the character with the kind of comic timing that suggests he would also make a terrific Archie Rice, the music hall comedian in Osborne’s The Entertainer

Somehow looking disheveled in his smart pinstripe suit, his Maitland convulses, mimics and vomits his way through a series of plea bargains designed to explain rather than excuse the destruction that he wreaks upon himself and others.

It is a performance that reveals the actor that exists within a certain kind of lawyer. It calls for a lot of playing to the gallery, which designer Soutra Gilmour emphasises by extending the set’s wooden paneling into the auditorium, turning the Donmar’s intimate space into something like a courtroom. 

There is solid support from the other members of the cast. But aside from Al Weaver, who plays Maitland’s bullied junior solicitor Jones, and also a defendant who gives a deeply moving account of being criminalised by anti-gay laws, there is only one character and one performance that really matters here. 

For anyone who saw Dominic West’s recent Butley, think of the wit and acerbic asides that West brought to that performance, and then run 1,000 volts through it. Then, you not only get a sense of Hodge’s supercharged delivery, but perhaps the reason why, by the end of Maitland’s confessional, there is little left but the fearful shell of a once-vigorous man.


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