Productions like this are precisely why Agatha Christie has endured so long. Witness for the Prosecution is an absolute marvel in the atmospheric surroundings of County Hall
“How could he possibly commit such a brutal murder. He’s such a dish”
Most of what I know about justice comes from Bananarama (guilty as a girl can be) so I’ve yet to be called up for jury service. But Witness for the Prosecution acts as a fine stand-in, especially with this production which makes inspired use of the disused Council Chamber in London’s County Hall. The show opened back in 2017 but it has taken me this long to getting around to see it – more fool me, as it is pretty darn fantastic.
I suppose I was guilty of thinking of the slightly stale Mousetrap side of Agatha Christie, the one of which it is hard to get particularly excited, rather than the Sarah Phelps–inspired revivals which have relocated and reignited the sheer quality of Christie’s writing. Lucy Bailey’s interpretation of the 1953 play rightfully plays it with an extremely straight bat, reminding us just what a unparalleled master she was at this game of crime writing.
The case of Leonard Vole, a dishy young man accused of the murder of an older rich woman he’d befriended, is a fascinating one to watch. And what resonates as much today as it ever did then is the notion of justice as an old boys’ club, as Jonathan Firth and Miles Richardson’s opposing counsel relish the theatrical pageantry of the courtroom just as much as they do actually litigating the case at hand.
And there’s something remarkable about the venue. Some audience members get to play the jury, some are sequestered up in the press gallery, all are bewitched by the atmospheric splendour in front of us. Chris Davey’s lighting works wonders, not least in the arresting opening sequence, and William Dudley’s design feels pitch-perfect, particularly in the gorgeous costume work, fitted skirts and flowing suits evoking the era effortlessly.
Naturally, I can’t say much about the plot – there’s so much fun in watching the case unravel, and then unravel some more. And Joe McNamara’s Leonard and Emer McDaid as his wife and key witness Romaine give two vibrant lead performances that underscore the intensity of the story, as the very nature of justice itself seems to hang in the balance. Productions like this are precisely why Agatha Christie has endured so long.