Last Updated on October 1, 2021
Lucy Bailey summons you to watch Agatha Christie’s courtroom drama
Tensions run high as the opening scene of Witness for the Prosecution begins with a highly distressed Leonard Vole being dragged by the police into the courtroom where Mr Justice Wainwright hands him a ‘guilty’ murder conviction leading to his execution by hanging. Is this the ending, a nightmare or what’s at stake?
Witness for the Prosecution had just celebrated its 1000th performance having played to more than 325,000 people over two and a half years when theatres were forced to close last March 2020. Gripped by the case of Leonard Vole, the Agatha Christie play has captured the imagination of audiences accused of murder in cold blood.
This season, Lucy Bailey (Oleanna, Theatre Royal Bath/ West End) places the audience in the thick of the action, as Christie’s enthralling tale of justice, passion and betrayal unfolds with a new cast.
After the opening scene, the arena stage undergoes an intricately choreographed set change where we are taken back to Sir Wilfrid Robarts’ office where we see Leonard retelling his relationship with Emily French, the woman he is accused of murdering and various alibis to pieces of evidence.
Joe McNamara stunningly portrays Leonard Vole as a naive and very charming defendant in his West End stage debut. Within a few minutes, his performance will have a segment of the audience seemingly believe that he was an unfortunate victim of circumstance.
When we are taken to the court hearing, Jonathan Firth demonstrates a strong portrayal of Sir Wilfrid Robarts, whose character is being increasingly convinced that his client is innocent and will do everything he can to get acquitted. This is balanced by Miles Richardson’s depiction of Mr Myers as the determined prosecutor hellbent on exposing all factual evidence to convince the jury that Leonard Vole is guilty.
Yvonne Gidden’s Janet MacKenzie, Emily French’s maid, is a highly emotional and a very convincing witness to watch, although some of her motive for testifying is questionable.
Meanwhile, Sam Graham’s Dr Wyatt and Elana Martin’s Miss Clegg bring professional credibility to their characters as they seek to provide the facts in an impartial manner.
The first twist occurs when Romaine Vole, depicted by Emer McDaid, seemingly testifies for the prosecution with the aim to prove her husband guilty. Emer’s performance has that mix of funny but cunning complexity which leaves the audience confused and resentful of her character.
The ensuing twists and turns of the case continue to play out in an intimate courtroom setting inside the atmospheric London County Hall as the audience incrementally grows more invested in Leonard Vole’s innocence. Even Martin Turner’s representation of Mr Justice Wainwright seems to have a sliver of partiality to the defendant’s innocence, depicting a sense of humanity to a civil role embodying the UK justice system.
The slightly immersive nature of Witness for the Prosecution is amplified by courtroom crowd reaction sound effects in response to the courtroom dialogue and also embodied in the VIP seats, which let you sit on the jury panel and proclaim a final verdict to be incorporated into the show. The jury decisions are tallied up and the majority’s decision is then announced by the foreperson of the jury (also an audience member).
So, will Leonard Vole be able to convince the jury of his innocence and escape the hangman’s noose? You’ll have to watch the show to find out.
Witness for the Prosecution is booking through to 20 March 2022 with tickets starting from £12. In addition to traditional seats, you can choose to be ‘a member of the jury’ sitting in the Jury Box for the performance. Just remember, as a member of the Jury you must shut out from your minds everything except what will take place during the trial
London County Hall
The Chamber, County Hall, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 7PB
Box Office: 0844 815 7141
Tuesday to Saturdays at 7.30 pm
Thursdays and Saturdays at 2.30 pm
Sundays at 3 pm
Looking for something different? We also recommend The Play That Goes Wrong currently showing at The Duchess Theatre