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Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall | Review

Opening in October 2017, this production of Witness for the Prosecution is still going strong, though revisiting this show a few years later, it’s noticeably snappier and slicker. The auditorium used to be the council chamber of the London County Council, and when it was disbanded in 1965, the Greater London Council, itself dissolved in 1986 when its powers were largely devolved to the thirty-two London boroughs. The stalls have gloriously comfortable leather seats. As for the galleries, well, it is what it is. The play itself opened in London in 1953, based on a short story written in 1925. And yet it is, for the most part, as decent and compelling a show as many others who have seen it say it is.

Emer McDaid (Romaine Vole) in Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
Emer McDaid (Romaine Vole) in Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

To preserve a significant plot twist in the final moments of the show, one character is named in the programme simply as The Woman (Ellie-Rose Mackinlay). Scenes are set in one of two places. The first is the chambers of Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC (Jonathan Firth), in which the defendant in a murder trial, Leonard Vole (Joe McNamara, making his West End debut in this production, so says the programme, though whether County Hall counts as a West End theatre is another discussion for another time), consults with his solicitor, Mr Mayfew (Teddy Kempner), and Sir Wilfrid.

Most of the action, however, takes place at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, colloquially referred to as the Old Bailey. Such different settings require extensive scene changes, covered over by musical interludes and, because there is no curtain, the audience watches every transformation. It didn’t bother me too much, but the scene changes may have gone on for too long for some.

The acoustics of the theatre lend themselves better to courtroom proceedings, compared with the subtler conversations in the chambers: from my vantage point the dialogue wasn’t always as crystal clear in ‘private’ than in ‘public’. Leonard’s wife Romaine (Emer McDaid) comes across as something of an enigma to be cracked – whether defence or prosecution counsel is able to do so would be giving too much away. Miscellaneous questions and cross-examinations happen swiftly enough, with the no-nonsense Mr Justice Wainwright (Martin Turner) ably dealing with objections, interruptions and witnesses either not understanding court procedures or otherwise being purposefully obtuse.

The piped-in murmuring and low-key conversations whenever the court was adjourned for whatever reason added to the atmosphere, but not all of the sound effects were strictly necessary. Both Sir Wilfrid and his prosecution counterpart, Mr Myers QC (Miles Richardson) present compelling arguments which turn what would otherwise be long and drawn out court sessions into something altogether delightful to watch. A very British courtroom drama, this is a riveting night out, and it’s the sort of show that makes people think who they could bring with them for a repeat visit.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Leonard Vole is accused of murdering a widow to inherit her wealth. The stakes are high. Will he be able to convince the jury of his innocence and escape the hangman’s noose?

The new cast includes Joe McNamara as the accused, Leonard Vole, Emer McDaid as Romaine, Jonathan Firth as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, Teddy Kempner as Mr Mayhew, Miles Richardson as Mr Myers and Martin Turner as Mr Justice Wainwright. The rest of the new cast includes Christopher Dickins, Nicholas Fretwell, Yvonne Gidden, Sam Graham, Eliot Giuralarocca, Stewart Lockwood, Lorna Lowe, Ellie-Rose Mackinlay, Elana Martin, Simon Murray, Robert Rickman and Andrew Senesie.

LISTINGS
Eleanor Lloyd Productions and Rebecca Stafford Productions present
Witness for the Prosecution
By Agatha Christie
Directed by Lucy Bailey
Designed by William Dudley
Lighting Design by Chris Davey
Sound Design by Mic Pool

London County Hall
The Chamber, County Hall, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 7PB
Currently Booking to 20 March 2022.

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