In London’s (Off) West End 2018: Agatha Christie’s Witness For The Prosecution at County Hall (Review)
An unusual immersive experience that highlights the theatricality of the court.
LONDON – Mistress of mystery Agatha Christie may have had her play Witness for the Prosecution staged countless times before, but perhaps never in an actual courtroom. Staged at the Council Chamber of London’s County Hall on the Southbank, a former headquarters for local government in London, this new production immerses audiences fully in the action as they take on the role of jury members in attendance for a murder trial.
Directed by Lucy Bailey, Witness for the Prosecution charts the case of Leonard Vole (Daniel Solbe), a man accused of murdering widow Emily French to accrue her wealth. To counter the charges, Vole’s wife, German refugee Romaine (Emma Rigby) forges a complicated plot, serving as the eponymous witness for the prosecution as opposed to the defence, building a case only to tear it down with fabricated evidence to better convince the judge of his innocence, leading to a convoluted chain of events as the courtroom heats up.
Witness for the Prosecution dives straight into the legal drama from the moment audience members take their seats, briefed on the court proceedings before being tasked to swear an oath upon the bible. This is enhanced further by William Dudley’s imposing set, Mic Pool’s incidental but atmospheric sound design mimicking the echoes of witnesses shuffling down corridors and errant whispers, and Chris Davey’s lighting, shining a spotlight and lending emphasis and drawing attention to various witnesses as they give testimony. Even the mid-show intermission feels akin to an actual courtroom recess, with audiences in the holding area excitedly buzzing about their thoughts on Vole’s innocence.
Even when the play begins, one can already feel the crackle of energy and anticipation throughout the chamber, as the case’s backstory is carefully explained, the tension rising in the air as more and more is revealed. Things get particularly exciting when Romaine enters, dressed in a fierce leather coat and commanding the attention of all simply with her presence alone, simultaneously a force to be reckoned with while oozing wit and guile, perfectly matching Solbe’s mask of innocence he portrays as Vole.
The remainder of the cast, from solicitor Mr Mayhew (Richard Banks) to prosecutor Myers (William Chubb), showcase a ferocity to their words their otherwise proper posture belies, making for a show that keeps one constantly hanging off every word, an excitement to see where this case might jump to next with the war of words never letting up, from pleading the case to a heartened defence, where one could even see the beads of sweat glistening off their very skin as they argued.
By the end of the play, it doesn’t matter what you believe is the truth anymore, as the result is ultimately inconsequential (you’ll see why when you watch the play). What Witness for the Prosecution does so well is to make full use of its grand space to deliver gripping, passionate site-specific theatre that thrills in every scene, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats as they debate both internally and externally. The realism displayed in the play emphasises, more than ever, just how much of a show actual courtroom drama equates to, and if anything, Lady Justice herself is sure to be entertained if ever she watches this magnificent thriller.
Photo Credit: Shella Burnett
Performance attended 11/1/19
Witness For The Prosecution plays at County Hall, London SE1 7PB (Along Belvedere Road). Booking currently available till September 2019. For tickets, visit the website here