The old criticism of John Osborne is that he wrote not plays, but character studies. It holds true for Inadmissible Evidence and, though it gives Douglas Hodge opportunity to dazzle, the play never gains momentum of its own. As the chaotic and splenetic solicitor Bill Maitland, Hodge is both protagonist and power generator. Were he to stop, you half suspect the lights would switch off.
Osborne himself was notoriously insecure and, like Jimmy Porter before him, Maitland is a bottled expression of the playwright’s own emotional state. The famous anger remains, but unlike Porter’s, it is turned inwards in self-loathing. Maitland recognises that he is the root cause of his own problems, but can’t get a decent foothold on life to turn things around. We see him over two days in which he barely leaves his grimy office, which, in Soutra Gilmour’s design has the look of a fish-tank that needs cleaning.
Maitland is an alcoholic, a serial adulterer and an absent father. His marriage is disintegrating, his legal practices are of dubious legality and his sense of self is in tatters. Life is a vicious circle of guilt and distraction that here catches up with him.
For a man whose idea of a to-do list is a role-call of his secretaries, the future always arrives too quickly and it terrifies him. No calm sniper, Maitland is a blunderbuss taking pot-shots in the dark. Always on the cusp of hyperventiliation, he bats away oncoming problems with forced charm and puerile humour. Hodge plays him like a rhinoceros learning to rollerskate, slipping and sliding around, but occasionally pulling off an inadvertent triple pirouette.
Hodge’s energy is, in itself, remarkable, but he still maintains several layers with real care. His Maitland is both entertainer, chasseing across the stage and twisting case notes into punchlines, and embittered depressive. It is a complex performance that never loses sight of either humour or torment, even as the latter grows dominant for Maitland’s eventual breakdown.
It’s here that director Jamie Lloyd pulls off his best move, warping Osborne’s play to further reflect Maitland’s mental state. The string of divorcee clients that come through his doors, all played by Serena Evans, are disarmingly similar. In one, Maitland sees a vision of his own life; in another, Mr Maples, a newly-out homosexual collected and at ease with himself, all he wants to be. Lloyd smartly has Al Weaver double as Maples and Jones, the young clerk whose youth and togetherness Maitland so envies.
There’s great support from Esther Hall as Maitland’s level-headed mistress Liz and Daniel Ryan as Hudson, the lawyer tired of holding the fort, but Karen Gillan’s fans might be disappointed, since her cameo role has been over-billed.