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Review: Witness for the Prosecution, at London County Hall

In the seductive council chamber, producer Lucy Bailey is only guilty of staging a classic Agatha Christie melodrama

03 November, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Location, location, location: Witness for the Prosecution staged at County Hall. PHOTO: SHEILA BURNETT

THE puzzle is whether we are simply being seduced by the setting, invited as we are into the forgotten council chamber at County Hall. Does the marble masonry, wooden desks and the chance to sit like a Lord, or in reality an old GLC member, on red leather seats fool us into thinking that the show unfolding in front of us is better than it is?

Happily, you do not need to be an amateur Poirot or Marple to solve this one, even if the grey-celled David Suchet was among the approving audience on press night. While we gaze at the immersive surroundings and watch, in particular, David Yelland puff perfectly around the courtroom stage as the earnest but pompous QC Sir Wilfrid Robarts in Agatha Christie’s Witness For The Prosecution, producer Lucy Bailey is only guilty of staging a classic little melodrama here. Unanimous verdict. Nobody had an objection.

Apologies for the cheesy lines but this is Christie, superbly cheesy before cheesy was a pejorative term for anything that wasn’t Othello. The repressed won’t dare admit it, but sometimes you just want a twisting whodunnit, told in an engaging way and here the court was upstanding in applause.

We met Jack McMullen hoping to dodge the noose as Leonard Vole, accused of bludgeoning Emily French, a kindly Hampstead spinster with an estate to offload on the event of her death. The case against him seems a dead cert when his German wife Romaine (Catherine Steadman) testifies for the prosecution, wrecking his alibi.

Yelland, with able help from Philip Franks as prosecutor Myers, give us the full legal drama panache, very quiet then TREMENDOUSLY LOUD, underneath those wigs slightly irritated morphs into monstrously angry in a moment.

Wonderful, even if these days a visit to the real Old Bailey is more likely find to lawyers spending hours squabbling curious adjournments. The court won’t sit this afternoon because the judge has a dental appointment, that kind of thing, perhaps explaining why public galleries are never as busy with gossiping cockney sparrows as they are on TV and in films.

In County Hall, however, we are left guessing to the end, sucking in Christie’s dig, intentional or not, at the triumphalism of the British justice system above all others.

Escapism at its best.

UNTIL MARCH 10, 2018
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