Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Witness for the Prosecution

Witness for the Prosecution

★★★★

London County Hall

Witness for the Prosecution

Witness for the Prosecution

London County Hall

Reviewed – 27th April 2022

★★★★

 

“The courtroom setting is of course a highlight”

 

Witness For the Prosecution has been intriguing and entertaining tourists and Londoners alike since 2017, and I don’t see why it should stop any time soon.

Baby-faced Leonard Vole (Joshua Glenister) is being accused of murder, having been found in the wrong place at the wrong time, but despite his seemingly obvious innocence, the evidence is shaky. Will his open features and simple nature be enough to redeem him?

Agatha Christie does well to create this stuffy, old-boys’ club legal system full of lots of back-slapping middle-aged men. It feels almost timeless in that it could be 1850 just as easily as 1950. But in walks Leonard’s wife Romaine Vole (Lauren O’Neil) dressed all in black, and suddenly we’re in technicolour. The women are the flavour of this otherwise slightly musty courtroom drama, with Romaine leading the pack, feline and cryptic in beatnik beret and blood-red lipstick. But housekeeper Janet Mackenzie (Mandi Symonds) and even the hardly-seen jealous woman, and mysterious blond (Lily Blunsom-Washbrook) in the second half are a glorious disruption.

Where previous casts have chosen a slightly subtler route, this new production has opted for campy over-the-top histrionics which I think suits the echoey chamber and oft-nightmarish script perfectly. Leave the naturalism to the proscenium arches.
The courtroom setting is of course a highlight, the lofty ceilings and dark wood adding flair to what is otherwise a pretty conventional production. A select few are seated as the jury, and others are sat in the press gallery. The rest of us play a ghost audience to a murder trial that has happened many times before in this same space. It’s just unusual enough to appeal to the savvy theatre goer, and plenty accessible for the enthusiastic novice looking for a good story to get stuck into.

The production claims to be running only until September, but considering how long The Mousetrap has been going, I’d say there’s still a good appetite for Christie in the city, and Witness is a much snappier story in a far more engaging setting.

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Ellie Kurttz

 


Witness for the Prosecution

London County Hall – currently booking until 25th September

 

Previous review of this show:
Witness For The Prosecution | ★★★★★ | September 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Witness for the Prosecution

Witness for the Prosecution

★★★★★

London County Hall

Witness for the Prosecution

Witness for the Prosecution

London County Hall

Reviewed – 30th September 2021

★★★★★

 

“Lucy Bailey’s staging is inspired, clever and inventive”

 

Situated on the South Bank of the Thames, London County Hall is watched over by Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. Sitting at its centre is the magnificent splendour of the octagonal Council Chamber. Since the First World War it served as the headquarters of local government for London. Back in the 1980s Ken Livingstone would lock horns with Margaret Thatcher while the façade of the Hall served as a billboard for opposition slogans; seen from the austere, Gothic windows of the Palace of Westminster. Today the banners tell a different story, inviting us to witness another courtroom battle altogether. Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution”, published as a short story in 1925 in a weekly pulp magazine, was eventually adapted by the author herself into a play which opened in London in the fifties. Lucy Bailey’s unique production has been running at London County Hall for four years now and, although still far behind ‘The Mousetrap’ it looks set to follow suit in its longevity.

We are summoned into the chambers, settling into the leather-bound, high-backed seats; some of us in the gallery and a dozen hand-picked audience members led to the jury’s bench. It is the perfect setting for a courtroom drama. The solemnity of the atmosphere would seemingly leave little for the design team to do, but Chris Davey’s lighting and, in particular, Mic Pool’s chilling sound design immediately let you know the proceedings are about to start. One of the most stunning preludes in the West End then gives way to the action that unfolds before us: a story of truth and lies, guilt and innocence, defence, and prosecution. A tale where words are twisted as ruthlessly as the plot.

Leonard Vole (Joe McNamara), a ‘between-jobs’ mechanic has been accused of murdering a wealthy, older woman with whom he struck up a close friendship. A friendship that Detective Inspector Hearne (Christopher Dickens) casts in dubious shades. Vole’s wife (or is she?) stands by him (or does she?). Sir Wilfrid Robarts takes on his defence and believes in his innocence (or does he?). It would be criminal of me to answer the questions here, though I think I can get away with saying that any second guessing is probably a waste of time.

Agatha Christie was fascinated by the idea of deceiving an audience, and she was an expert at it. We don’t know who’s done what until the very end. There is a huge responsibility for a stage adaptation to respect that, and this cast would have won her trust in the strike of a judge’s gavel. McNamara’s Leonard Vole is the picture of innocence and naivety, digging a hole for himself with his self-proclaimed candid honesty. But you get the sense he has dug his own bunker too, into which he has stashed the real truth. A spell-binding performance that has us questioning as much as the prosecution. Jonathan Firth as Sir Wilfrid takes on his defence with a sparkling, almost camp relish. Firth is a delight to watch, commanding the stage. Most of the action takes place in the courtroom but some of the most poignant scenes take place in Wilfrid’s chambers. The banter between Firth and the wonderful Teddy Kemper (playing defence lawyer Mr Mayhew) gives a true insight into the dichotomy and duplicity required to tread the boards of the courtroom.

Into this world steps Romaine Vole, the German refugee wife of the accused, shaking the foundations of this male oriented inner circle. Emer McDaid’s coquettish, cool, calculating charisma confounds both the council and the audience. She supports her husband’s alibi, then denounces it, then… well – my lips are sealed. She is a woman you ‘wouldn’t trust with your laundry’. A riveting performance, in line with the rest of the cast. Lighter moments are thrown in with precision timing, courtesy of Martin Turner’s dry and sardonic Mr Justice Wainwright.

Lucy Bailey’s staging is inspired, clever and inventive. Despite the head start she was given by the setting. As the play nears its close the jury are asked to deliver their verdict. You think that’s that. But no, there’s more. I shan’t reveal what the summing up is. But, ladies and gentlemen, you should have no difficulty reaching your verdict on this glorious adaptation. It really must be witnessed.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Ellie Kurttz

 

Witness for the Prosecution

Witness for the Prosecution

London County Hall until August 2022

 

Five star shows this year:
Shook | ★★★★★ | Online | February 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
Reunion | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Breakin’ Convention 2021 | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | July 2021
Sh!t-Faced Macbeth | ★★★★★ | Leicester Square Theatre | July 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | August 2021
Cinderella | ★★★★★ | Gillian Lynne Theatre | August 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews