Witness for the Prosecution is an immersive theatrical event with excellent foundations. Held in the London County Hall, the stage is set for a winning combination of a gripping story presented by stellar cast.
You have been summoned for Jury service.
Unused for many years London County Hall has been resurrected as the perfect setting for an Agatha Christie story. Christie wrote Witness for the Prosecution in narrative form in 1925 and then as a play that opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in London in 1953. It tells of the trial of Leonard Vole for the crime of murder.
This stage production is an immersive event with the audience sitting in the jury seats, the press gallery and in the body of the hall. One lucky member of the audience stands in the spotlight for two seconds of fame as the foreman of the jury. The rest remain seated as spectators throughout as the cast moves through the hall and effect changes of set with style and panache.
There is a palpable sense of reality created by the venue, the design and the performances. In true Christie fashion, the plot pivots direction with each twist of the narrative, leaving the audience aghast at its denouement. What sets Witness for the Prosecution apart from other Christie plays is the absence of either of the two most famous detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. There is also a twist to the verdict but to tell more of that would spoil the experience for future audiences.
The creative team, lead by director Lucy Bailey, are to be commended firstly for the vision of using this magnificent space to mount the production, but also in gathering cast and creatives that utilize the opportunity to serve the narrative well.
Obviously the chamber is perfect for the courtroom settings, but not every scene takes place there. William Dudley has created a set design that enables the cast to move key pieces of furniture to create a drawing room atmosphere on a central, raised stage.
Surprises within the stage provide a rather chilling opening scene. Lighting also plays a key part in creating both space and atmosphere and Chris Davey has designed lighting that works particularly well within the constraints of the space.
Likewise, in a venue that may have been difficult to design for sound, Mic Pool has provided a soundscape in which every word can be heard. Pool also made good use of the old sound system of the County Hall with quaint speakers built into the seating for an extra aural effect.
All of these excellent production values provide a performance space for the cast to shine and that is exactly what they do. The cast of fifteen players provides a strong and unified ensemble with winning and complex characterizations from the principal players.
As the accused young man, Jack McMullen gradually sheds layers of deceit from beginning to the end. McMullen presents Vole with sincerity and charm with sufficient room for doubt.
Appearing for the defense is solicitor Mr Mayhew who recruits QC Sir Wilfred Roberts to the case. Roger Ringrose, star of stage and screen, plays the amiable Mr Mayhew with charisma and a light touch. Sir Roberts is portrayed by another actor of much experience, David Yelland, who also provides a stellar performance with consummate ease. It is particularly pleasing to watch the stage relationship between these two excellent actors.
Catherine Steadman plays the role of Romaine Vole, the witness for the prosecution herself. Her character is very complex and requires that particularly tricky skill of acting within acting. Steadman approaches her performance with a simplicity that allows for a level of credability.
Witness for the Prosecution is a production with many stars, onstage, offstage and the stage itself but also the star quality of an Agatha Christie tale. With such solid foundations this production can do nothing but shine.