The first thing to say is that Malpractice does has a solid foundation. There is absolutely a core idea that could transfer into a solid piece of drama. It’s just that in its current format, it tries to do way too much, taking an almost scattershot approach to numerous topics and then moving past them in a rush. And there is too much suspension of disbelief asked of the audience as the evening goes on. While one twist might work within a tighter script, a second and then even a third just demands too much from us.
Some early nerves account for several line flubs, and I’m almost certain I saw Clayton Black directing from the stage more than once. This settles down as the evening progresses but does suggest more rehearsal might help. Black’s direction does work well though in the small space that is Bread and Roses Theatre. The structure of the play is good, with flashbacks used to good effect and the rearranging of furniture to create different locations surprisingly successful.
There are occasional pieces of clunky dialogue, at one point threats are almost used to threaten. Some plot holes really jump out, a body found at the bottom of a canal after 12 months, parts missing from rats, yet it still shows signs of booze and drugs in their system – enough to be able to blackmail someone. It all stretches credulity a touch too much. This really doesn’t help Black, his character and motivations just become so far fetched that it is hard not to just see a caricature. Fiona Munro does good work as the detective, particularly early on but as the plot develops, she is not well served. Elsewhere Richard Bobb-Semple is good in a short scene as public defender and Mike Younis is a standout throughout as the victim.
There is an awareness in the play of the racial make-up of its protagonists, something that has clearly been taken into consideration. The man with a history of violence and jail but who is found innocent of the current charges is black and there are lines about white privilege and “playing the race card”. But later on, there is dialogue about ‘not people’ ‘beasts’ ‘rabid dogs’ … this doesn’t sit easily, and I’d suggest this needs more consideration. Perhaps even swapping a couple of the cast’s roles might help?
All of this contrasts with how Malpractice relates the story of the victim and the charges that the lawyer defends him against – here there is, to borrow a phrase from the play, reasonable doubt. The level of nuance shown here, if brought to the entire play, could really make this a lot more interesting.
Malpractice doesn’t need a total rethink, it has great ideas and massive potential. It’s just that, right now, there seems uncertainty about what it wants to be: is it a thriller with a message or is it full-on satire. But instead of picking one, it has decided to try and walk a line down the middle, without great success. I would be interested in seeing this return after some updates, and hopefully then it will be clear what it actually wants to be.
Written and directed by Clayton Black
Produced by Daybreak Theatre Company
Malpractice plays at Bread and Roses Theatre until 21 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.
You can also read more about this play in our recent interview with Clayton Black here.