Witness for the Prosecution

Arguably, the most important part of any Agatha Christie play doesn’t happen on the stage at all; it takes place in the rest of the theatre during the interval, when there’s plenty of fun to be had eavesdropping on an audience’s theories about the murder. Christie’s 1953 play, Witness for the Prosecution, is no different in this respect; Leonard Vole, the man in the dock for the brutal killing of an “elderly” spinster, is so clearly innocent – essentially a “friendly sort of chap”, according to his defence lawyers – that there just must be some underhand scheme going on.

Tony Flynn is noble and sufficiently intense as defence barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts

Having relatively recently served on a jury (albeit not relating to a murder case), I’m well aware of the inherent theatre that builds up in a courtroom; and how that’s partly down to the rhythm of interest switching repeatedly from prosecution and defence lawyers to the gadfly-like witnesses who appear briefly on the stand to give their evidence and then are never seen again. Christie presents this legal process well enough, not least utilising the old legal trick of a barrister “withdrawing” a controversial question while clearly hoping that its implications will linger in the jurists’ minds. Director and designer Kenny Miller holds the overall action together well enough, building resolutely to the final judgement. Yet he seems less inclined to prevent his cast – especially those who have the essentially small roles – from making them as big as possible; in some cases, such as Darren Brownlie’s nerdish scientist Mr Clegg, playing them outright for laughs.

Of course, even though some of the cast double up in the minor roles (which has a relevance later on), it can work really well: Ann Louise Ross excels as both frosty Dr Wyatt and vindictive housekeeper Janet MacKenzie. Yet there are some queries about the staging, none-the-less, not least the slight confusion of having members of “the Dundee Rep Community” playing the jury at the rear while the witnesses look to the audience when giving their evidence. Also, having the barrister’s office set in front of the court – it’s drawn apart to either side when not required – is a tad ponderous as well as unsettling – what would happen if the mechanism broke?

Tony Flynn is noble and sufficiently intense as defence barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts, and the production actually makes something of his misogynistic attitude to Vole’s German “wife” Romaine (a finely judged performance, as ever, from Irene Macdougall). Yet, arguably, Robarts has little more depth than some of the characters who are on stage for a few minutes; a failing, arguably, more of Christie’s writing than the efforts of the actor.

The play’s conclusion and its final revelations are both surprising and – arguably – too rushed, leaving little or no time to feel that justice has actually been done after all. Which is a shame; while an entertaining production, Miller seems more interested in presenting Christie’s criminal puzzle than trying to find any current relevance to the world today.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

You have been summoned for Jury Service.

I swear that the evidence that I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.

Leonard Vole stands accused of murdering a rich widow. The stakes are high – with shocking witness testimony, devastating betrayal, passionate outbursts from the dock and a young man’s fight to escape the hangman’s noose.

If you are a fan of mystery, and if you love to figure out whodunnit, you won’t want to miss Witness for the Prosecution. Agatha Christie is at her all-time best with this remarkably crafted thriller.

Do you swear that you will well and truly try the accused and give a true verdict according to the evidence?

See you in court.