Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution has called London’s County Hall home for five years, and is now in its seventh cast iteration, yet Lucy Bailey’s production feels just as compelling, surprising, and awe-inspiring as it did back in 2017.
With stage and screen adaptations of Christie’s work aplenty, Witness for the Prosecution was supposedly one of her personal favourites, and you can understand why; the thrilling twists and turns unfolding in a courtroom setting is perfect for a live audience.
Having seen the production several times now, its setting is no less spectacular. County Hall, once the City of London Debating Chamber, becomes the Central Criminal Court, and with the audience surrounding the stage, patrons feel fully immersed in the production.
Those who choose to book a seat in the jury get an even closer glimpse of the action, and play an active role in the production, making the whole thing even more exciting.
It’s the atmosphere that’s created that makes this a very unique experience; the echoes of footsteps outside the chamber and the grandeur of the chamber itself give us the sense of responsibility a jury might have felt; it is of course set in the days of capital punishment.
The accused is Leonard Vole, and it’s up to the jury to decide if he’s guilty of murder. His alleged victim was older, and very rich, and with the evidence seemingly stacked against him, the audience, as much as the jury, find themselves torn on whether Vole is a cold blooded killer, or merely a charming young man who is a little too honest for his own good.
It is Leonard’s wife, Romaine, who is the titular witness, and Lauren O’Neil’s flawless performance certainly has the desired effect on the audience. While Sir Wilfred Robarts QC (Owen Oakeshott) and Mr Meyers QC (Richard Teverson) spar across the floor it’s striking how much of courtroom procedure is observed; there’s even a Stenographer quietly tapping away throughout.
We sometimes go beyond the courtroom walls, to the QC’s chambers or the back of a pub in Limehouse, here the carefully choreographed movement of set becomes an integral part of the production, while Mic Pool’s unobtrusive sound design further accentuates that atmospheric feeling.
As well observing courtroom procedure, we are often reminded that in the case of Leonard Vole a man’s life hangs in the balance. Joshua Glenister’s warm and charismatic portrayal of the role immediately engages the audience, and when addressing the jury, those piercing, tear-filled eyes are enough to convince us this is someone who wants to avoid the gallows. Glenister’s ability to connect with the audience ensures no one will go home disappointed.
Witness for the Prosecution is without a doubt a unique theatrical experience, but it’s also gripping to watch. Lucy Bailey has found a way to make this already exceptional courtroom drama even better, prepare to plead guilty to falling in love with the spectacle of it all.