REVIEW: Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie
Not a fan of courtroom dramas, nor older thrillers, I was apprehensive about this production but by the interval I was fully involved with its array of interesting characters and was looking forward to discovering how the intriguing plot would resolve. A penniless man is being tried for the murder of a well-heeled friend, possibly to claim an inheritance. Not a new storyline perhaps, but when coupled with the ruthless examination of witnesses, several twists and turns along the way, and a double plot contortion at the end, it made for a worthy evening’s theatre.
The cast worked well together, with a fine performance from Alan Haynes as Leonard Vole, the accused, whose despair visibly increased as his “wife” Romaine (Pauline McLaughlin) very convincingly and mercilessly gave evidence against him. QC’s Myers (Michael Wilson) and Lady Roberts (Gill Jenks) drew admissions from the witnesses with great skill, though at times searching for lines did weaken the dramatic effect. Mary Campbell as Janet Mackenzie made a strong supporting role appearance as a key witness. Good support too from Tim Kendrick as Mayhew, Glen Marks (Carter and Dr Wyatt), Bryan Sellar as Justice Wainwright and Melanye Richmond, the Usher. All credit as well to Andrew Turner as a Policeman with minimal dialogue who remained faithfully in character throughout.
For my own taste, the impressive multi-levelled courtroom set looked too bright, but it did enable the character’s darker legal attire in particular to stand out and enhance the visual interest of the piece. Scene changes between Lady Roberts’ chambers and the courtroom were well masked with front cloth projections and improvised street scenes.
Director Roger Saxton-Howes set the production in the 1980s. For me the dialogue and plot sat more naturally in the 1950s when the play was first written, and the accompanying choice of music by Sky seemed jollier than might be expected – would classical choices have been appropriate and added more to the atmosphere of the piece? Nonetheless the director and his cast successfully engaged us in this story. The theatrical device of addressing the audience as the jury being an especially effective technique to draw us into the drama and help drive the play to its well-executed conclusion. For those who did not buy a ticket and may be wondering if Leonard Vole was guilty or not guilty, sorry, you have missed your chance to find out!