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Review of Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall

By Ed McConnell

As subjects for theatre go it's hard to think of a better fit than the court room.

As settings for theatre about the court room go it'd be tough to stumble upon a more appropriate venue than London County Hall.

The former council headquarters' cavernous chambers and marble-floored corridors do an excellent impression of The Old Bailey, and it's a good job too as that is almost entirely where Agatha Christie set her 1953 adaptation of Witness for the Prosecution, formerly a short story.

Leonard Vole (Daniel Solbe) in Witness for the Prosecution (8293075)
Leonard Vole (Daniel Solbe) in Witness for the Prosecution (8293075)

This immersive play hooks you from the start, a section of the audience gets jury service and one lucky lady gets to read out their verdict.

On Planet Netflix, where true crime documentaries take over night after night and hapless protagonists win a special place in your heart to the point in which you can't begin to entertain the prospect that they may have carried out a brutal murder, Witness is well placed to win over a new generation of theatre-goers or Christie fans.

Maybe it's the original Making a Murderer, maybe Leonard Vole (Daniel Sole) is the original Steven Avery and if you don't understand any of this sentence maybe Witness is for you, too.

That's because it's hard to think of anyone who won't be enthralled by this timeless crime tale, a production whose depiction of the drama of the real-life court room is uncanny.

Defence barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Jasper Britton)
Defence barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Jasper Britton)

To briefly explain, without giving too much away, baby-faced Vole is suspected of battering rich older admirer Emily French to death in order to get his hands on her inheritance.

Barristers Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Jasper Britton) and Mr Myers QC (William Chubb) go to war. Justice is the prize they're fighting for and for each it looks different.

Their impressions of legal professionals are spot on – Roberts for the defence is likeable and mischievous, prosecutor Myers a squawking know-it-all.

The three hours that follow are full of twists and turns, some laughs and some brilliant acting.

Of particular note, Mrs French's perpetually peeved Scottish housekeeper Janet Mackenzie is played with aplomb by Joanna Brookes.

Janet Mackenzie (Joanna Brookes) is excellent
Janet Mackenzie (Joanna Brookes) is excellent

The witness for the prosecution herself, Romaine Vole (Emma Rigby), has an accent almost as unconvincing as her performance in the box, but you can just about overlook it.

Romaine Vole (Emma Rigby)
Romaine Vole (Emma Rigby)

Overall Witness is a fantastic take on a Christie classic, not as well known as the immortal Mousetrap or Miss Marple but probably even better, I can't say for sure because I must confess I'd never picked up one of the crime queen's novels or sat down in front of one of her plays before.

Ninety-four years since Witness first appeared in print its author has won a new fan, a Neflix-era millennial.

Witness continues at County Hall until next March. To buy tickets click here.

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