London Theatre Review: Witness for the Prosecution

Date Posted: 18/07/2018

You’ll leave the courtroom in a state of shock, both from finding out ‘whodunnit’ and from how impeccable the production is, says Laura Sexton after reviewing the Agatha Christie play at London County Hall. 

With some shows it is easy to be wowed by a particular cast member with a stand-out performance. Watching Witness for the Prosecution that was more difficult to do; there were so many throughout.  

Set in a courtroom, the production follows the trial of Leonard Vole, charged with the brutal murder of wealthy older widow, Emily French. Using London County Hall’s Central Criminal Court for the staging of Christie’s script, which has been developed for TV over the years, totally immerses the audience in a way I haven’t encountered in live theatre before.

The experience begins as soon as you enter County Hall, opposite the London Eye on London’s South Bank, and take your seats in the red leather stalls; you feel a wave of nervousness, almost as if you have been called for jury service in a real trial.

It opens with Leonard Vole, portrayed by Harry Reid (best known for playing Ben Mitchell in Eastenders) begging for mercy as a noose is presented before him and we’re informed of the shocking accusation against him. And from that moment the audience is at the centre of the action and already deciding whether or not he is guilty. 

Harry Reid

Pictured: Harry Reid as Leonard Vole (photo credit: Ellie Kurttz).

Reid’s naïve yet charming performance, as the young man in the dock, is completely convincing and despite the fact Christie’s stories always present a twist, he has you on his side from the start. His wife, Romaine Vole played by Lucy Phelps has the opposite effect and leaves the audience frustrated and suspicious of her intentions. Phelps as the deranged, arrogant woman is chilling and her performance complements the written character seamlessly. Phelps' credits include Call The Midwife, Silent Witness and New Tricks.

The scenery is simplistic yet effective, with the cast moving through the audience with furniture to set each scene in a strategic and choreographed way, symbolising the gravity of the trial and the tension that the play emits. 

Lucy Phelps

Pictured: Lucy Phelps at Romaine Vole (photo credit: Ellie Kurttz).

Richard Clothier as Sir Wilfred Robarts QC does an exceptional job of playing Vole’s defence lawyer, so much so that he wouldn’t be out of place in a real court case. And Philip Franks as Mr Myers QC, the prosecution, gives an equally credible and composed performance. 

Other characters include Janet Mckenzie played by Jules Melvin, the jealous housekeeper of Mrs French, who appears to have her own secrets when called to the witness stand, making the audience’s verdict even harder to reach. 

The script is, as expected from Christie, intricately structured, unnerving and exhilarating and the entire audience leaves the hall, both in the interval and at the end of the play, stunned and astonished.  

Without giving too much away, there is some audience participation in the form of a jury, seats of which can be booked with VIP tickets. Although, even if seated elsewhere you can  expect to feel totally engulfed and part of the drama as it plays out.  

The classic whodunnit play will have you gripping your seats, contemplating theories as they whirl around your head, because in true Christie style, you won’t find out until the very end who the villain is.

With a memorising plot, well executed stage direction, and exceptional acting, Witness for the Prosecution easily tops my list as one of the most insanely brilliant pieces of theatre I have ever witnessed.

Christie herself said in her autobiography that Witness for the Prosecution “was one of the plays that I like best myself”; after watching it myself, I certainly share the same view. 

Witness for the Prosecution is currently booking until 31st March 2019 at London County Hall and groups can book tickets through Group Line by calling 02072 061174.

www.witnesscountyhall.com

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