The second play in the current Donmar team's farewell season and it's Jamie Lloyd's turn, directing John Osborne's 1964 play Inadmissible Evidence. Each of the two acts is a condensed day in the office of Bill Maitland (Douglas Hodge,) a lawyer specialising in divorces (the first paragraph of Osborne's programme bio details the writer's own five marriages.) He has a wife and two kids, plus a mistress (broadband-flogger Esther Hall, who manages to get through her scene without phoning Kris Marshall to tell him how cheap the call is) who he intends to spend the weekend with instead of his daughter's birthday. But he's also had a recent affair with one of his secretaries (Doctor Who's Karen Gillan playing the role of Karen Gillan) and is about to start one with the other (Amy Morgan.) The play reminded me of Butley in that a reprehensible central character has his life fall apart around him, although at least this time he's charming enough that you don't wonder why it took this long for everyone to give up on him. It's a massive central role for Hodge, an actor I haven't warmed to in the past but who is onto a winner here; you can't deny it's a very big performance but you equally can't deny that's what the role demands. The first act especially is also very witty, with some majestically odd turns of phrase (a pterodactyl that gives you cancer?)
At the beginning of the first act there's a dream sequence in which Maitland is on trial and frequently speaks to the audience. At the beginning of the second, he's drunkely fallen asleep in the office and his second day there sees the boundaries between reality and dreams blurring. He begins to address the audience in the course of what appear to be waking moments, and when the same actress (Serena Evans) doubles the roles of all the women seeking divorces, always wearing the same outfit, he appears to recognise that it's the same person, where all the other characters are blissfully unaware of the doubling. So as well as the character's increasing fits and paranoia, the play fascinatingly uses theatrical conventions to show us Maitland's nervous breakdown. In the middle of all this there's also an interestingly low-key scene in which Maitland meets with a gay client (Al Weaver) who's been entrapped by police in a cottage, and the encounter is surprisingly sympathetic for the time it was written, especially when contrasted with the mysogyny of the lawyer's dealings with female clients. This is very much a star vehicle - in the interval Ian joked that the other actors must have occasionally begged to be given a line or two as well. Not so much of a joke as it turns out, as the second act sees the arrival of Alice Sanders who, as Maitland's daughter, literally doesn't have a single line in the play and is required to pout while her father raves at her. This being a Jamie Lloyd show it rockets along as usual; running at two and a half hours it feels shorter, though Ian said he was glad of that as however impressively it was being done, he couldn't have taken much more of the character's nightmarish breakdown (Osborne was to have one of his own two years later so he knew what he was writing about.) Personally after Saved last week I've found whole new levels of what kind of assault on the senses I can take; although affecting, I also found Inadmissible Evidence interestingly full of ideas.
Inadmissible Evidence by John Osborne is booking until the 26th of November at the Donmar Warehouse.