Just across town from St. Martin’s Theatre where Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap continues its record-breaking run another of her murder mysteries Witness For The Prosecution is currently playing in the palatial surroundings of the Council Chambers of London County Hall. Which, with its beautifully imposing grand pillars, is the ideal setting, the Judge’s Bench taking centre stage and, as you might expect, the portrait above sitting in silent judgement. Immersive sets are very much in vogue currently and this production follows the trend. The light and sound effects which are pivotal to the play are inventive and very contemporary.
It isn’t a story with which we’re too unfamiliar. Leonard Vole, a naïve, enthusiastic and eager to please young man makes friends with a rich older woman who has an appreciation of cats (eight in total) who appear to be her only companions in a somewhat lonely life. A few days after her will is changed in Vole’s favour, she is, unfortunately, found dead. This simple plot takes an unfamiliar direction when Vole’s wife refuses to provide him with an alibi and instead acts as witness for the prosecuting side, trying her husband for murder.
As the play unfolds this production highlights its contrasting and intermingled elements to their best advantage: the traditional courtroom with its lawyers (who, whilst prosecuting and defending their respective clients, indulge in barely suppressed undercurrents of mutual rivalry), the classic policeman, the dubious wife. Personally, I left the production feeling sorry for all the unfortunate coincidences that accumulated against Mr Vole and losing faith in the ‘Great British Justice System’.
And then there’s the rather dark plot twist, and my my, how very well it’s done! As with The Mousetrap, members of the audience are requested not to divulge the ending, and I’m going to honour that request. Keep the ending a secret too folks, take it to death row with you, if necessary. Be warned: no one likes a gossip-monger and what starts out as idle chit-chat can take a downward turn much more quickly than anticipated!
Joking aside, Witness For The Prosecution is one of Christie’s better plays, in my opinion, and especially so performed within such a grand setting. I, therefore, order you, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, to take your seats and play close attention to the facts and evidence set out before you.