Witness for the Prosecution at London’s County Hall: An Enjoyable Night in Court
Anthony Walker-Cook reviews Witness for the Prosecution in the beautiful Chamber in London’s County Hall.
All rise, court is in session. The accused? Witness for the Prosecution at London’s County Hall. The charge? Of being an engaging and tense piece of drama that tries to derive whether or not Leonard Vole is guilty of killing Mrs Emily French. Director Lucy Bailey has gathered a mostly young but able cast, adapting Agatha Christie’s 1953 play that is part courtroom drama and part thriller. In the grand setting of London’s County Hall, with possibly the most comfortable chairs of any West End show, witnesses are called to testify, but as with any detective drama, allegiances change, misdirections abound and order must often be established for the truth to be revealed.
Leonard Vole stands accused of killing the elderly widow Emily French, whom he’d only met months before. As Vole, Daniel Solbe can oscillate between being rather rigid and excessive, yet in the courtroom setting where tensions run high these moments of instability work. Emma Rigby as Romaine Vole is likewise rather staccato in her portrayal of the character: some points land well but a tentative accent does hold her back.
Who better to defend Leonard than Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC? Played by Jasper Britton, audiences are introduced to Wilfrid with a high throw of his barrister’s wig and some jocund jokes about his colleague, Mr Myers QC (William Chubb). Britton proves to be the highlight of the production, his acerbic legal intellect deployed alongside an affable personality and subtle sense of comedy. Should London Student ever need a lawyer, I know who to call.
With the show essentially performed in the round, there is no-where for the actors to hide, and the other cast members provide a strong ensemble. Of course, the only way to portray the housekeeper is as a rough-and-ready Scot, which Joanna Brookes does well, and one can even her utter the historic words ‘there’s been a murder’ with as much alacrity as Detective Taggart himself. Ewan Stewart also provided a warm and comforting portrayal of Mr Mayhew, his soft Scottish accent offering support to Vole throughout the trial.
But what is most impressive in this production is its full acceptance of the tropes of the courtroom situation. Actors have been trained to speak fast, their performances as lawyers highlighting the performativity of the position. The production works so well because everyone is committed to their role, even those who have no lines at all. Miriam Cooper in a straight grey jacket acts as the stenographer for the entirety of the production, recording the speedy exchanges between lawyers and witnesses. Clerks and policemen line the courtroom and papers are exchanged between actors. A live jury made from audience members sits to the side of the judge, and such is the environment produced by the dedicated actors that they make notes!
But it is not all courtroom drudge. Chris Davey’s lighting and Mic Pool’s sound design grapple with the noir aspects of the story ably, playing with the large space in creative and at times thrilling ways. When not in court, William Dudley’s simple design produced by actors bringing on home furnishings works well, the transitions smooth if rather burdensome. Surprising moments of humour are found throughout the piece both in court and in the different settings produced.
And so, Witness for the Prosecution, you stand charged of being an able production with a superb performance by Jasper Britton in one of the best locations in London. The verdict? Guilty. It would be criminal to miss this show.
Witness for the Prosecution is at London’s County Hall until September 1st, 2019.
Feature and production photographs by Ellie Kurttz.