Just when you think you know where you are with this London theatre version of Witness for the Prosecution, the play suddenly does something to surprise you. This take on the Agatha Christie classic is full of twists and turns – and you can tell the cast are having just as much fun with it as the audience is.
The tale follows the story of handsome young man on the make Leonard Vole. Following a chance encounter with the wealthy but elderly spinster Emily French, Vole forms a close friendship with the needy woman which propels him along an unpredictable path which could either end in riches or ruin.
Christie’s writing has never seemed sharper or more ingenuous. The plot is studded with breathtaking twists and turns and yet the play never feels gratuitous or unbelievable.
The cast is uniformly superb. Daniel Solve, making his theatrical debut as Leonard Vole, is magnificent, and skilfully manages to keep the audience guessing as to his character’s intentions. Jasper Brittain, who plays Voles’ Barrister, Sir William Robarts, is even better. Witty and warm at times, cajoling at times, Brittain looks like he is relishing getting his teeth into the key role of the defence barrister burdened with a seemingly unwinnable case.
However, the real masterstroke here is the staging. Capitalising on the stunning surroundings of County Hall, the play feels like it is set in a real criminal court, an effect which is only heightened by Lucy Bailey’s imaginative staging.
At the beginning of the night a portion of the audience are sworn in as jurors and throughout the evening both sets of legal counsel address their pleas to the group, as if they were a real jury. If this feels contrived at first, by the end of the night the sight of the jury delivering their verdict seems almost chillingly real.
This clever device only serves to highlight the theatrical nature of the British court system too. The distinction between courtroom and theatre seems to almost disaspear with audience members transforming into jurors and the servants of the law playing to the gallery as if they were mere players on a stage.
Witness for the Prosecution is cleverly conceived, ingeniously staged and brilliantly acted and the production team have the audience eating out of the palm of their hands from the moment the play begins. Agatha Christie’s source material stands up remarkably well and the audience is kept guessing right up to the end of the performance.
However ultimately what really elevates this brilliant production from the mere good to the exceptional is the imaginative staging. The use of County Hall is a masterstroke and the imposing council chamber is a perfect substitute for a real criminal court.
It is the way that all of these elements combine together that makes Witness for the Prosecution feel like absolutely unmissable theatre.
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