What strange magic Agatha Christie used when creating her characters and storylines continues to this day. Whilst not yet as long-lived as The Mousetrap, the other famous Christie play, Witness for the Prosecution, first hit the stage in 1953 and returns now in the post-covid-restriction era in a most unusual but utterly fitting setting – the London County Hall.
For those not in the know, the London County Hall was the setting for great political debates in the 1970s and 80s between notable members of the now-defunct London County Council, such as Labours Ken Livingstone and his Tory rival, Horace Cutler.
Whilst much of the Council complex has since been sold off and redeveloped, the debating chamber has been mercifully preserved and is now being put to imaginative use as the stage for Agatha Christie’s personal favourite. The courtroom drama fits nicely into this setting of grandiose leather back chairs and upright-backed benches for the audience to endure or enjoy (more on that towards the end of this review).
There is something about Agatha Christie’s writing that has led to her work not yet falling out of fashion, even as many of her characters are heading towards being 100 years old. Twisted plots and intriguing characters remain the hallmark of her literary contribution to British crime literature.
This production by Lucy Bailey combines Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution with the London County Hall’s Council Chamber to create something greater than its parts. It was fantastic to sit and watch the drama unfold amongst all the dark wood and leather of this old debating chamber. The setting becomes a wonderfully atmospheric addition to the mounting tension in the plot that unfolds before us.
This cleverly penned play centres on Leonard Vole (Joe McNamara), a young man accused of the murder of a wealthy older lady whom he befriended. The prosecution’s primary witness against Leonard is his enigmatic but seemingly duplicitous young wife, Romaine Vole (Emer McDaid). It seems like this is an open and shut case, but being an Agatha Christie story, you know there will be more to it than just that. We can’t say any more. #Sworntosecrecy.
Emer McDaid portrays the perfect femme fatale, delivering a stunning performance and owning the room every time she steps in. No pair of eyes dare to move away from her when she delivers her lines – her energy captivates each and every member of the audience holding their full attention until her scenes end.
Given the plot twists and turns that will hold the audience spellbound, the effect is only heightened further by the venue. Taking charge of proceedings is Martin Turner as Mr Justice Wainwright. Miles Richardson plays Mr Myers, QC, the Crown prosecutor. Aiding Leonard Vole in his bid for freedom are Jonathan Firth as Sir Wilfrid Robarts and Teddy Kempner as Mr Mayhew. With such talent, it feels like you really have found yourself in a courtroom.
Christie’s sharp attention to detail included getting professional advice whilst writing the story, which is shown in the smaller parts that would be present in an actual courtroom, such as the stenographer and other legal figures.
Our only words of warning, book a seat in the courtroom stalls if you can. The London County Hall was designed to allow everyone present to be able to hear the speaker, but it is no theatre. Some restricted-view seats in the galleries are exactly as they state and may bring down your enjoyment of this otherwise unique experience.
Other than that, Witness for the Prosecution is a play you’ll thoroughly enjoy from start to finish in a venue that won’t leave you indifferent. Book your tickets now here.