County Hall, London
Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Lucy Bailey
Director Lucy Bailey writes in the programme for Witness For The Prosecution how when she first visited the “long discussed council chamber at London’s County Hall it was covered in dust”. In today’s Covid-safe theatres the playing space may well be spotless and the dust is no longer, but County Hall still oozes just as much atmosphere and grandeur and that’s before a cast member has even said a line.
Despite the status of such a grand playing space setting the piece off in many ways from the moment you set foot in the auditorium, the first half is at times a slow burner, but audiences beware... pay attention and listen closely, you don’t want to miss a trick, let alone a line or piece of evidence that may later prove vital in the audience-jury verdict.
Leading the cast is Joe McNamara who plays Leonard Vole and is the accused on trial, a debut West End performance for Vole and yet he nails the character to a tea, flitting from panic to calm, anger to devastation with each development and very much taking the audience with him. Emer McDaid arrives on cue as the elusive and mysterious Romaine Vole and seems to lead the proceedings with her witness for the prosecution.
Yet the leaders of the court room in this case are Miles Richardson and Jonathan Firth as Mr Myers QC and Sir Wilfrid Robards QC respectively. The court room provides the perfect stage for these two fine actors to lock horns throughout with a particularly assured performance from Robarts whose wit and dexterity is impressive. Teddy Kempner’s Mr Mayhew is equally fine as the pair work together throughout the court case.
A rare observation but indeed one worth noting was such a large company, many with extremely minimal moments of action yet so many on stage throughout the piece all contributing to the atmosphere that times could have been cut with a knife.
While the set design allows some flexibility in location throughout, at times it seems to get in the way with. That said Bailey’s direction allows for scenes to be played with a natural focus despite the in the round seating and truly leaves the audience not knowing what will happen next.
Off the West End geographically but not by much Agatha Christie’s ‘Witness For the Prosecution’ really is a fine treat, and very much an established one. Amongst the comings and goings of shorter runs for many plays in and around town, this production now in its 5th year truly is a thrilling night of whodunnit, classic drama.
Booking to 20th March 2022
Photo credit: Ellie Kurtz
Reviewed by: Matt Hooper