County Hall, London – until 1 September 2019
It was a stroke of marketing genius on the part of director Lucy Bailey and her producers to decide to stage one of Agatha Christie’s best-loved court room dramas in something approaching a court room. Setting Witness for the Prosecution within London’s abandoned County Hall becomes as much the grandest ‘immersive’ theatrical experience in London as much as a revival of an old stage thriller.
The capital’s legislative home from 1922, shockingly Mrs Thatcher had it closed down in 1986 – a crime against local democracy that has gone unpunished to this day. The building’s external architecture more resembles something akin to the grandeur of Paris with its gilt and magnificent marbled and wood carved central chamber.
Internally, walking into the main chamber, you can’t help but be impressed, so neatly has designer William Dudley turned the room with its coat of arms, giant marble pillars, soaring domed ceiling and steep public galleries into a close replica of the Old Bailey.
Presided over currently by Christopher Ravenscroft’s benevolently commanding ‘Judge’ Justice Wainright, the scene is set for the murder trial of one Leonard Vole (Daniel Solbe). Before the judge, in a semi-circle, sits the audience and to Wainbright’s right, the jury made up of members of the audience who have paid for the privilege.
Such is the realism of the production, before proceedings begin, each of the 12 members of the audience are subjected to a swearing in, taking the solemn oath ‘to consider the issues faithfully according to the evidence.’ For the rest of us, we are treated to what one reviewer has already described as ‘the comfiest theatre seats in London’.
I’d certainly say amen to that. Wide, leather-bound, they’re made for long hours of contemplation although here, audiences will find the event lasts barely two hours.
Did or did not young Leonard murder Miss French, the elderly, wealthy woman who befriended him, one night in October?
I wouldn’t dream of saying more, now would I? Suffice to say that Witness, made into a memorable film with Charles Laughton as the defending QC and Marlene Dietrich as Vole’s German-born `wife’ follows a familiar Christie pattern of jealousy, betrayal, and greed before arriving at the climax which I’m happy to say I had forgotten.
The final twist, turning our expectations back on themselves, is a bravura moment from Christie,
© Ellie Kurtz, husband wife, the Voles, Daniel Solbe and Emma Rigby as Leonard and Romaine…young man and the foreign `wife’ he `saved’ and moved from Germany to England…all is not as it seems…
Bailey’s production is now into its second year and has just changed its cast. Emma Rigby makes Romaine Vole a slinky, heavily accented, somewhat stereotypical femme fatale but plays it for all its worth whilst Solbe on his stage debut also impresses as her deceptively sweet-faced husband/accused.
Jasper Britton meanwhile turns in a bravura performance as Sir Wilfrid, a QC who clearly flourishes in the theatrical atmosphere of the court. Indeed, the trial scenes, predictably perhaps, prove the high points of Bailey’s production – partly because they are the clearest to hear.
© Ellie Kurtz, even Jasper Britton’s brilliant and flamboyant QC, Sir Wilfrid Robarts is not completely immune to the charms of Mrs Vole (Emma Rigby), it seems…
Packed, on a bitterly cold January night, my only caveat would be, ironically for a chamber designed for debate and discussion, that the acoustics do not lend themselves well to intimate dialogue, so much of the early scenes are lost in the County Hall’s echoey expanses.
However, as Christie does us the great favour of repeating information several times in different situations, little of importance is lost and most spectators can sit back and enjoy what turns out to be a highly polished account of Christie’s psychological and court drama.
Certainly one for her many aficionados.
Witness for the Prosecution
By Agatha Christie
Solicitor: Richard Banks
The Woman: Chloé Booyens
Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC: Jasper Britton
Janet Mackenzie: Joanne Brookes
Mr Myers QC: William Chubb
Stenographer: Miriam Cooper
Clerk of the Court: Liam Lau Fernandez
Greta/Miss Clegg: Phoebe Marshall
Warder: Hugh Osborne
Mr Justice Wainwright: Christopher Ravenscroft
Romaine Vole: Emma Rigby
Inspector Hearne: Simon Roberts
Leonard Vole: Daniel Solbe
Mr Mayhew: Ewan Stewart
Plain Clothes Detective/Policeman: Leo Turner
Carter/Dr Wyatt: Jamie Zubairi
Other Court roles played by:
Blake Aidan, Stephen Good, Tim Heath, Michael Weaver
Director: Lucy Bailey
Designer: William Dudley
Lighting Designer: Chris Davey
Sound Designer: Mic Pool
Casting Director: Ellie Collyer-Bristow CDG
Voice and Dialect: Edda Sharpe
Fight Director: Ruth Cooper-Brown
Assistant Director: Clemmie Reynolds
Presented by Eleanor Lloyd Productions and Rebecca Stafford Productions
First perf of this production of Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall, Oct 6, 2017
Booking to Sept 2019.
Review published on this site, Jan 31, 2019
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