John Osborne’s Inadmissible Evidence was performed for the very time on the night of September 9, 1964 at London’s Royal Court Theatre as a production of the English Stage Company. With esteemed actor Nicol Williamson heading up the cast, the play was an instant success and further cemented Osborne’s status as one Britain’s angry young men of the stage. Of course, anger is merely a symptomatic emotion and not a causal one and the seething commingling of causation that stimulate angry responses is always unpredictable. Such is the case of with the figure at the center of Inadmissible Evidence, attorney Bill Maitland. Ultimately, the anger results in a mental breakdown. That Maitland might be one of Osborne’s most autobiographical creations seemed to be confirmed a few years later when Osborne himself suffered an emotional meltdown.
The play did not just wind up seeming to prophesy Osborne’s own near-future; it also heralded the revolutionary changes that the entire country would experience. 964, at a time when Britain was on the verge of a series of legislative changes that would revolutionize life in the country. In 1964, committing acts of homosexuality were not only still illegal, but charges were enthusiastically investigated and dynamically prosecuted. In fact, it is probably safe to say that more homosexuals were still being sent to prison in 1964 than gangsters. In addition, Osborne and his fellow angry young men of the stage were more than a little miffed that the office of the Lord Chamberlain still possessed untoward power directly affecting them all: the power to censor theatrical productions. The heavy-handed patriarchal preference toward the rights of the husband in bills of divorcement were also finally beginning to come under scrutiny.
Osborne’s reaction to these outrages directed result in the creation of Inadmissible Evidence in which the opportunities afforded by theatricality of the stage and its presumptive detachment from the necessities of realism demanded by film and television audiences allow the prosaic daily routines within the office of a divorce lawyer to expand well beyond those conventions and tap fully into the larger zeitgeist of increasing demands for change in the way the British legal system operated. The disconnect between the mundane setting most effectively conveyed through a purely naturalistic set design and the play’s almost surreal and certainly dreamlike tone and mood offers profound opportunities for each individual production to decide for itself the appropriateness of creating a subtext indicating whether Bill Maitland has a shot at redemption or whether his “crimes” inevitably lead only to purgatory.
A 1968 film adaptation of Inadmissible Evidence retained Nicol Williamson in the leading role, but was criticized both for being too stagey and not cinematic enough and for diluting the power offered by the stage for Williamson to perform his character’s long monologue unedited. The decision to edit those monologues into smaller snippets strung together into a simulation of a monologue in which the actor himself did not set the rhythm came under fire for effectively shrinking in size the larger-than-life quality of a character upon which the power of the entire play is dependent.