Witness For The Prosecution

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews Agatha Christie’s classic crime thriller, Witness For The Prosecution.

Witness For The Prosecution

Justice, passion and betrayal fuel the drama of Agatha Christie’s classic crime thriller, Witness For The Prosecution, which returns in the wonderfully appropriate courtroom setting of the disused council chamber at County Hall, London.

Based on the 1925 short story called Traitor Hands, and much adapted for screens big and small, Christie’s play is easily her most ingenious. In the dock of the Old Bailey is unemployed, former car mechanic Leonard Vole, a personable young man who stands accused of killing a rich widow and now faces the death penalty. She recently changed her will to make him sole beneficiary and there’s evidence to support the impression that he’s guilty – on the night of the crime he was seen with blood on his clothes. However, he appears to have a rock-solid alibi – his stylish actress wife, Romaine, a refugee from Germany. But, as the title of the play suggests, that relationship turns out to be his undoing.

This is a play that is full of clever twists and turns and indeed there is a queasy pleasure in the way it celebrates deception. However its appeal lies not just in the mystery but in its atmospheric courtroom setting and its reminder that the law itself is a theatrical ritual: apart from dressing-up, the rival counsels are engaged in an ostentatious battle in which they shamelessly appeal to the jury and seed to ingratiate themselves with the judge. All this is reinforced by director Lucy Bailey’s gripping production, William Dudley’s evocative set and Mic Pool’s clever sound design which seek to persuade us we are witnessing a real murder trial, even down to the sound of the ushers’ summons to witnesses echoing through dusty corridors.

Furthermore, the performances are all first-rate. David Yelland has a dignified authority as defence barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts, while Philip Franks exhibits a tetchy disdain as his opposite number and Vole’s defence counsel Mr Myers QC. Jack McMullen has a persuasive charm as Vole and Catherine Steadman, once of Downton Abbey, is guileful and initially cryptic, the wildly insistent, as his German wife Romaine.

You have been summoned for jury service!

Witness For The Prosecution

Showing at the County Hall in London until 11 March 2018

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