Witness for the Prosecution at London’s County Hall
Agatha Christie’s Traitor Hands, the source material of Witness for the Prosecution, was not written as a courtroom drama. In fact it only contained a couple of moments of court case procedure. We wouldn’t know it from the stage adaptation, also written by Christie, which is quintessential British courtroom drama at its most satisfying. What elevates this production to special status is the beautiful surroundings in which it is set: London’s County Hall.
This is site-specific theatre of the most apt and thrilling kind. The lavish hall was once the headquarters of local government and its history and prestige oozes from every towering pillar, golden plaque and marble wall. Before the show and during the interval, the play’s judge, lawyers and stenographer chart a stately route through the crowds to and from the courtroom. Tickets state, “You have been summoned for jury service”. There’s a frisson in the air as of a real high-stakes case.
Witness for the Prosecution follows the plight of a young man named Leonard Vole (an affable Daniel Solbe) accused of the murder of a rich older lady. Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC (an excellently fiery Jasper Britton) takes on his case, but things become unpredictable when Vole’s wife (a sultry Emma Rigby) testifies. Christopher Ravenscroft deserves special mention as the wary Mr Justice Wainwright. Joanna Brookes is also excellent as housekeeper Janet Mackenzie.
Seating is in the round and in balconies. The leather seats with their fold-down tables are luxurious and the sightlines are a dream, presumably from every angle. Speakers located in the seats send hushed whispers through the space whenever a new witness is called or a revelation is made.
There are tropes aplenty – the femme fatale, the ditzy secretary and the rivalry between sparring barristers – but the knowledge we are watching a story that was written in 1925 gives us permission to enjoy its vintage authenticity. Each character is bold and distinct, the costumes perfectly observed.
Clues and red herrings are liberally scattered throughout the play and there’s enough barrister repartee to delight courtroom drama nerds. Then – of course – there’s an almighty Agatha Christie-signature twist. The audience is sworn to silence; signs on the way out instruct, “keep the secrets”. Go and seek them out for yourself.
Photos: Ellie Kurttz
Witness for the Prosecution is at London’s County Hall until 1st September 2019. Book your tickets here.