Review: Witness for the Prosecution at County Hall

Agatha Christie's classic drama has now opened in a unique setting on London's Southbank.

Taking over County Hall – which really gives credence to this production’s ingenious staging – Witness for the Prosecution allows audiences to experience all the drama and intensity of a real-life courtroom, as the classic, gripping story of justice, passion and betrayal unfolds in front of you.

Witness for the Prosecution tells the story of Leonard Vole. Accused of murdering wealthy widow Emily French, Vole must survive shocking witness testimony – and convince the jury of his innocence – if he is ever to escape the hangman’s noose.

This is classic Christie. It’s retro, glamorous, thoroughly British and utterly timeless; what makes it stand out from the crowd though is this magnificent setting.

County Hall is an iconic building. From the moment you step inside, you feel as if you are part of something special. Once ensconced in your seat, the setting is intoxicatingly real, almost to the point where you actually feel like you’re inside the Old Bailey’s public gallery on more than one occasion.

Speakers – built in to the seats to once aid curmudgeonly counselors to hear better during meetings – now whisper sound effects and a mood-setting soundtrack to add to the drama: half-forgotten laughter from the past, echoing footsteps, the distant chatter of a busy crowd.

On the stage, two rows of six seats make up the jury box, where paying members of the public become part of the show. One member even becomes foreman, standing up near the closing moments of the play to deliver their verdict against Vole.

Regardless of where you’re seated, Witness completely draws you in. And as Vole’s defence lawyer goes toe-to-toe against the prosecution, this brilliant Christie classic really comes alive.

The production is further bolstered by an incredible cast. David Yelland is exceptional as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, building the case to save Vole. His voice is like honey, and he’s a striking presence on stage in his QC attire; he really feels like a bonafide lawyer, someone you’d be glad to have on your side if you ever found yourself on the wrong side of the law.

He’s supported by Roger Ringrose as Mr John Mayhew – Vole’s solicitor – another striking presence, completely convincing in his fight for justice.

On the opposing side of the bench, Philip Franks stars as Mr Myers, Robarts’ in-court rival and chief prosecutor for the case. On the stand, Jack McMullen shines as Leonard, and Catherine Steadman is a joy as Leonard’s wife Romaine, the titular “witness” of the piece.

Elsewhere, the supporting cast are having lots of fun, but none more so than Patrick Godfrey as Mr Justice Wainwright, who almost steals the show more than once.

Of course, being Christie, there are plenty of plot twists to keep you guessing as to what the truth is, right up to the final moments of the play. This should please even the most seasoned of sleuths in the audience.

Witness was last seen on screen in 2016, when BBC One adapted the play for a TV miniseries, starring a stellar cast including Toby Jones, Kim Cattrall, Andrea Riseborough and Billy Howle.

In this adaptation – a new production by Rebecca Stafford and Eleanor Lloyd, and directed by Lucy Bailey – it’s ultimately the amazing setting of County Hall that raises the show to great new heights, making it a must-see theatre event for 2017.

Witness for the Prosecution runs at London’s County Hall until 11 March 2018. Get your tickets here.

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