Everyone loves an Agatha Christie tale. Unlike the films and programmes involving Ms Marple or Poirot that are often repeated on television, Witness For The Prosecution (which is directed by Lucy Bailey) doesn’t have a familiar marquee protagonist at the centre of its narrative. Instead, the draw is Christie’s deft writing, with its predilection for misdirection and keeping the audience on their toes.
The tale begins in the chambers of Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC (Jasper Britton) with the visitation of Leonard Vole (Daniel Solbe) whose story is in all the papers. However, Leonard has to convince Robarts about the veracity of his account (and the audience as well). His story? After helping Emily French – a mature and affluent woman – with her shopping at Oxford Street, he strikes up a friendship with her and visits on a regular basis. Last Friday night, he was the last person to be seen visiting her residence… before her untimely death.
With the exception of Robarts, almost everyone has a motive. Asides from Leonard, there is his wife Romaine (Emma Rigby) who he first met overseas and shows little concern for her husband’s predicament. Then there’s Janet Mackenzie (Joanna Brookes), the late-Ms French’s housekeeper, who was the closest person to her before the arrival of Leonard. But who is really telling the truth?
County Hall – where the play is performed – is a grand and beautiful venue. Formerly the headquarters of the now defunct London County Council, its ‘horseshoe’-shaped council chamber is opulent and exudes gravitas – a perfect location to depict a courtroom. It wouldn’t be an exaggeraration to say that the chamber is a character in its own right and with the audience all sitting in close proximity to the action, we’re silently evaluating the evidence versus the hearsay too.
In terms of standout performances, Emma Rigby’s Teutonic reserve leaves an indelible mark on the proceedings – a counterpoint to Britton’s ebullient Robarts. Chloe Booyens’ cameo as the infatuated woman gives the audience a good chuckle, while Janet Mackenzie (Joanna Brookes) manages to convey understandable anger AND be very funny. The amusing interaction between Mr Myers QC, the ‘prosecution’ (William Chubb) and the judge also deserves a mention, as the banter between them underscores his ‘underdog’ status in the courtroom.
© Michael Davis 2019
Witness For The Prosecution runs at County Hall, London until 1st September 2019.