Review: 5 years of Witness for the Prosecution

Summoned for jury service to the opulent surroundings of County Hall, the former seat of the Greater London Council (until 1986), we grab a drink at the ‘Courtroom Bar” which is placed within the council’s Great War memorial to the fallen, then head in to take our seats for the case of Regina vs Vole.

Leonard Vole (Harry Reid), a personable if naive young man, stony broke, out of work, and married to a ‘foreigner’ has been accused of the brutal murder of a Miss Emily French, a rich lady twice his age he befriended on London’s Oxford Street.

His defence on its own feels flimsy and absurd, but he has barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart)and solicitor Mr Mayhew (Jonathan Coote) on his side, and a devoted wife (Naomi Sheldon).

Pieces of circumstantial and coincidental evidence place Vole at the crime scene, with means and motive. It is clear where our sympathies are supposed to lie from the start, but are things always what they seem?

Production photo of Harry Reid as Leonard Vole in Witness for the Prosecution

Agatha Christie’s courtroom drama has been adapted for the screen at least three times (all very different and worth a look), and been staged abroad.

Now in its fifth year in surroundings that could not be more suitable – with added surround sound to suggest a lively courtroom, guarded doors, and public galleries – it may aspire to give neighbour The Mousetrap a run for its money in longevity.

Lucy Bailey’s production has changed some major players for the 8th time. A new Vole and Robarts, Mrs Vole and Judge (Nicholas Day) are here to shake things up and keep the play fresh – they are pictured at the head of this post outside County Hall.

There’s nothing modern here with the view of women (the foreign wife, the housekeeper (Lucy Tregar), the secretary and forensic expert (both Rosanna Adams), even the victim shrouded in stereotype). Misogyny and xenophobia are alive and well here.

Sir Wilfrid and his counterpart for the prosecution, Myers (Justin Avoth), are overplayed for easy laughs and duelling one-upmanship but never fail to convince once. Bruce-Lockhart brings a flourish of derring-do to the part of the defending knight.

Production photo of Dugald Bruce-Lockhart as Sir Wilfrid Robarts in Witness for the Prosecution

The judge – in true Crown Court style for those with long memories – is a showboating patriarch but with a dry regard for his ‘capital case’, carefully unfolding the black cap and offering the defendant ‘the best chance’.

Scene changes are played with an efficiency which has been well planned out and offers additional entertainment, showing us a glimpse into Sir Wilfrid’s chambers and a murky Limehouse dockside as well as the courtroom itself.

There are surprises, twists, and moments as this production unfolds which gently mock the cause of British justice (“the best in the world’).

With its immersive quality, Witness for the Prosecution heads into its next booking period (the end of April) a well-oiled machine which offers a unique theatrical experience to audiences.

You can join the proceedings at County Hall now: purchase your tickets here.

Image credit: Ellie Kurttz (production images); Matt Crossick (header image of the four new cast members)

Check out my July 2019 review of the show.

Promotional inage for 5th anniversary of Witness for the Prosecution